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Ukraine court releases MH17 suspect on bail

Ukraine court releases MH17 suspect on bail
Volodymyr Tsemakh, suspected of involvement in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 plane in 2014, stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Kiev, Ukraine September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko -
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SERHII NUZHNENKO(Reuters)
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KIEV (Reuters) – A Ukrainian court on Thursday released on bail a man suspected of involvement in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 that killed 298 people.

A judge said that Volodymyr Tsemakh, whom Ukraine’s security service has identified as a former commander of Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, should be released from custody immediately, pending further investigations.

Tsemakh is one of the people who could be handed over to Russia in a widely anticipated prisoner exchange.

Last week, Dutch prosecutors urged the authorities in Ukraine not to allow Tsemakh to travel to Russia, fearing this could jeopardise its investigation into Flight MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

This week, 40 European politicians wrote to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with the same request, according to European Parliament member Kati Piri.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that talks on a prisoner exchange were being finalised and that the swap could involve a large number of people. He said it could mark a step towards normalising relations between the two countries.

A Dutch-led international investigation team has issued international arrest warrants for three Russians and a Ukrainian – not including Tsemakh – on suspicion of murder in connection with the downing of the airliner.

Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine has killed 13,000 people in the past five years.

Dutch prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from a Russian anti-aircraft brigade. Russia has denied any involvement.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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