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    Jul 25, 2014

    Ukrainian rebel leader: Fighters had BUK missile


    A POWERFUL Ukrainian rebel leader has confirmed that pro-Russian separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the type Washington says was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and it could have originated from Russia.

    In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged for the first time since MH17 was brought down in eastern Ukraine that the rebels did possess the BUK missile system.

    Before the Malaysian plane was shot down, rebels had boasted of obtaining the BUK missiles, which can shoot down airliners at cruising height. But since the disaster, the separatists' main group, the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, has repeatedly denied having possessed such weapons.

    "I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time, I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR," Khodakovsky said, referring to the Luhansk People's Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk.

    "They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence," he told Reuters.

    He then accused the Kiev authorities of provoking what may have been the missile strike that destroyed the doomed airliner, saying Kiev had deliberately launched air strikes in the area, knowing the missiles were in place.

    Other separatist leaders have said they did not bring the plane down. Russia has denied involvement.

    Khodakovsky is a former head of the "Alpha" anti-terrorism unit of the security service in Donetsk, and one of the few major rebel commanders in Donetsk who actually hails from Ukraine rather than Russia.

    There has been friction between him and rebel leaders from outside the region, such as Igor Strelkov, the Muscovite who has declared himself commander of all rebel forces in Donetsk.

    Khodakovsky said his unit had never possessed BUKs, but they may have been used by rebels from other units.