The remains of at least 15 Malaysians killed when a jetliner was shot down over Ukraine will be returned to their home country this week, the first Malaysian victims of the disaster to be flown home, the country's defense minister said Tuesday.
All 298 people on board died when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on July 17. The plane was heading to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam and was shot out of the sky over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists. The victims included 43 Malaysians and 195 Dutch nationals.
With fighting between the rebels and Ukrainian forces ongoing near the crash site, victims' remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Tuesday that 28 Malaysian victims had been identified so far, including 15 passengers and 13 crew members.
The remains of at least 15 Malaysians and a Dutch national who was married to a Malaysian will arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, Hishammuddin said at a news conference, adding that the exact number to arrive would be known later in the week.
The government has declared Friday a national day of mourning.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia would not be competing with the Netherlands in terms of how the bodies are received. The Netherlands observed a minute's silence and solemn ceremonies were held when the remains of the victims arrived in the country last month.
Dutch authorities said last week that they had identified 127 victims in all.
The separatists have been widely blamed for firing a missile that brought the Boeing 777 down, but have publicly denied responsibility. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations.
Malaysia Airlines has been hit by two major disasters this year, adding to its longstanding financial woes. In March, Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared with 239 people on board after flying far of course. That jet still has not been found despite an exhaustive ongoing search in an area of the southern Indian Ocean where it is believed to have gone down.