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Iran must compensate crash victims families, Canada-led group agrees

Foreign Affairs Minister Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne holds a new conference to provide an update on the plane crash in Iran, in Ottawa Friday, January 10, 2020.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
January 16, 2020 - 10:47 AM

LONDON - Canada and its allies sent a stern message to Iran on Thursday: get ready to pay the victims of the Ukrainian airliner it shot down, and don't try to block any meaningful criminal prosecution of those responsible.

Those demands were among the five elements in the agreement that emerged from the meeting Canada hosted in London Thursday with representatives from Britain, Sweden, Afghanistan and Ukraine — countries that lost citizens in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752.

"We are judging Iran every day, demand by demand," Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said after the closed-door meeting of ministers.

The newly formed group of Iran watchers will have to remain vigilant for months, if not years, Champagne said.

That was underscored by the presence of Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok. He joined talks to provide a briefing the experience of the Netherlands in leading its five-year-long probe of the deadly shootdown of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, which investigators have blamed on Russia.

The countries expect Iran to deal with them on providing compensation to the families of victims, and ensuring a transparent investigation into the downing of the aircraft.

"The international community is watching. I think that we took as a first positive step the fact that Iran admitted full responsibility," Champagne said.

"From that admission, obviously, flows consequences and we expect and demand a full co-operation from the Iranian authorities in every step of consular services, identification of remains, investigation and prosecution of those responsible."

The group also called on Iran to respect families' wishes on repatriating the remains of the 176 people killed when the plane came down, full access for consular officials and investigators, and an independent and credible criminal investigation into last week's crash.

Everyone on board was killed when one, though perhaps two, Iranian surface-to-air missiles hit the Ukrainian airliner. Iran lost 82 nationals in the crash, while 57 Canadians were killed. The Canadian Press has independently confirmed at least 89 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students and professors returning after spending the December break visiting relatives in Iran.

After denying for days that it shot down the passenger plane, Iran's leaders apologized and admitted what they said was a mistake.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's parliamentary secretary, Omar Alghabra, said the federal government was exploring options for compensating victims' families in the interim because the international process could drag on for years.

The gathering at Canada House on London's Trafalgar Square opened with a solemn, wordless ceremony.

Champagne led the four ministers down a grand staircase, past flags from their countries to a podium where each lit one candle in quiet succession. The ministers then stood shoulder to shoulder behind the flickering flames to lead a moment of silence.

The meeting in London began with a political update about the situation in Iran and the tensions in the region that led up to the crash. That was followed by an intelligence briefing from Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko as his country has had investigators in Iran for a week.

Trudeau has been working the phones with his international counterparts in recent days, including with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the leaders of Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

"The Prime Minister and the Secretary General reaffirmed the need for a complete and thorough international investigation. They welcomed the involvement of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the investigation," said a readout of Trudeau's call with Guterres.

ICAO is based in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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