KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Malaysia had to use back-channel negotiations to recover the remains of the passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
He said this unconventional way was very necessary and important as Malaysia had to engage in quiet diplomacy but that it was a successful communication with the separatists.
“We realised that we needed to act and we acted differently and we did things that were rather unconventional. We were dealing with separatists, something that was unprecedented.
“Because, normally, as a government, you only deal with another government. But, here, it was a movement, a separatist movement and there was this impasse.
“We couldn’t retrieve the bodies; we couldn’t get our hands on the black boxes; we couldn’t have access to the crash site,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive seven-minute interview that was aired Wednesday.
Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
Najib said there was impasse when dealing with the separatists and this was among the challenges the government had to face to bring closure for the families of the victims.
“There was this impasse; we didn’t know how long it would continue, and I felt I owed it to the families affected. Because that really moved me, because when I met them, I met each and every individual family and it really touched me.
“I was moved. I was almost in tears. I could feel for them; a huge sense of empathy, and I told myself, as a leader of the country, I needed to do something and I needed to bring a closure to the families,” he said.
Asked whether the Malaysian cabinet knew about his action, Najib said he had to take a decision and press the button in the operation himself via telephone with the separatist as it was a very sensitive issue.
Najib said the separatists agreed to help Malaysia, to hand over the bodies and black boxes after he had appealed to them.
“I appealed to them. I said look, come on, you know this is something that you need to do because there are families affected. They have nothing to do with what you are fighting for. They are not involved in the geopolitical conflict.
“They are innocent people. Hand over the bodies to us. Hand over the blackboxes to us. I appealed to their conscience,” Najib said.
When asked if anybody would admit to what had happened, the prime minister said the main focus was to get the bodies back and the black boxes, which were relatively easier than finding the truth.
Najib pointed out that though the initial investigation found that the plane was hit by a high-energy object, most people thought that it came from a missile that exploded just outside the aircraft and led to the break-up of the plane in mid-air.
Meanwhile, on the environment, Najib said Malaysia and other Asian countries must help one another and have specific targets in terms of carbon emission reduction.
“Well, I think we should be committed to specific targets and we should be held accountable to it. Every single country in the world, big or small, should be committed to some specific targets in terms of carbon reduction.
“We must be specific about it but the developing world expects some sort of help because they are poor countries. They need help. They need to develop,” he said.