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Baird calls on Russian-backed rebels to leave plane crash site and allow probe

International forensic experts visit the site of the Malaysian Airlines plane crash at Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 21, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Dmitry Lovetsky

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International forensic experts visit the site of the Malaysian Airlines plane crash at Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 21, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Dmitry Lovetsky

LONDON - Likening sanctions against Russia with the West's past efforts to stamp out apartheid and bring democracy to Myanmar, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced further punishments Monday aimed at ending the crisis in Ukraine.

Baird expressed confidence at a news conference in London that harsher sanctions against Russia will ultimately work, despite predictions from some experts that such measures will do little to convince the Russians to stop exerting political and military influence on Ukraine.

"Sanctions didn't work in the short term in Burma," Baird said of the country now known as Myanmar. "They didn't work in the short term in South Africa. But in the end, persistence paid off."

The downing last week of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet over territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine demands that Canada and the rest of the world "ratchet up" the pressure tactics against Russia, he added.

Baird announced Canada's intention to slap sanctions against more people and entities, including government agencies, over Russia's continuing military actions against Ukraine.

The announcement came amid a worldwide outpouring of anger and grief over the downing of flight MH17. International outrage has been growing over how separatist rebels have been handling the bodies of the 298 passengers and crew of MH17 who died in the crash.

Baird called on the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine to withdraw from the area and allow an international team of forensic experts to investigate the crash of the Malaysian airliner.

Shortly after Baird spoke, a train carrying most of the bodies recovered from the crash site departed from a nearby station to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. From there the bodies will be flown to Amsterdam.

Dutch forensic investigators and other European monitors arrived in eastern Ukraine on Monday, four days after the plane was shot out of the sky.

Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of MH17. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the disaster should not be used to further political goals in eastern Ukraine.

But Baird said no one believes what Russia has to say about the incident, and that Putin bears ultimate responsibility.

"The Kremlin may not have pulled the trigger but it certainly loaded the gun and . . . put it in the murderer's hand," said Baird. "Russia is not fooling anyone."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also issued a statement on Monday, saying the crash of MH17 is a direct product of Russia's aggressive actions.

"The outrageous and criminal act of shooting down a civilian airliner last week is a direct product of Russia's military aggression and illegal occupation of Ukraine, and demonstrates the need for the international community to continue applying pressure on the Putin regime," Harper's statement said.

He also repeated a previous warning that Russia's military action against Ukraine and its illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Canada has so far imposed sanctions against 110 individuals and others considered to be responsible for violating Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

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