Dutch PM says Mahathir MH17 comment 'sows confusion'

Brussels (AFP) –


Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday slammed his Malaysian counterpart for creating "confusion" by criticising a decision to charge four people over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Mahathir Mohamad had called the move by Dutch-led investigators to charge three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder for the 2014 disaster "ridiculous" and "politically motivated" against Moscow.

"I understand -- and of course I also feel like that -- that relatives are very disappointed about this and that it sows confusion," Rutte told reporters ahead of an EU summit in Brussels when asked about Mahathir's remarks.

Rutte said the Dutch foreign ministry would contact the Malaysian government about Mahathir's comments, adding that he wanted "to await the results of this first before making further statements".

Piet Ploeg, chairman of the foundation that represents Dutch relatives of victims, called the Malaysian leader's statements "bizarre and too crazy for words".

"It's an unbelievable slap in the face for relatives of victims in Malaysia and also in the Netherlands," Ploeg told NU.nl online news.

"It is completely surprising that the Malaysian premier would doubt the findings of his own judicial apparatus," said Ploeg. "His own judicial people are completely behind the (international team's) findings," said Ploeg.

The Boeing 777 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was blown apart by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels on July 17, 2014.

All 298 people on board were killed, 196 of them Dutch.

Malaysia is part of a Dutch-led joint criminal investigation team, together with Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, to identify and prosecute those responsible for shooting the plane out of the sky.

The team announced on Wednesday that a trial of the four suspects with links to Ukrainian separatists would start in March 2020.

But the 93-year-old Mahathir -- back in power in Malaysia after a previous twenty-year stint from 1981 to 2003 that was criticised as authoritarian -- said the charges were a "ridiculous thing".

"We are very unhappy because from the very beginning it became a political issue on how to accuse Russia of wrong-doing," he told reporters in Malaysia earlier Thursday.

"As far as we are concerned we want proof of guilt. So far there is no proof. Only hearsay."

The Malaysian foreign ministry said in an earlier statement that it "appreciates" the announcement by the Dutch-led investigation team.

Relations between Malaysia and the EU, of which the Netherlands is a member, have been tense recently with the southeast Asian country accusing the EU of launching a "trade war" over a plan to curb the use of palm oil.