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Iran shootdown of plane carrying Canadians 'illegal,' says Ukraine minister


OTTAWA — A Ukraine minister says a preliminary analysis of flight recorders has revealed that Iran illegally shot down a passenger jet from his country over Tehran.

Yevhenii Yenin, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, made the declaration in a Twitter post Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa confirmed the legitimacy of the tweet but said her government had no further comment.

The declaration sheds light on what could become an opaque investigation, because Iran has become the official investigator even though its military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8 shortly after it took off from Tehran.

All 176 people on board were killed, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents and dozens of others with connections to Canada.

Under Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, Iran becomes the lead investigator for the crash because it was the "State of Occurrence."

That also gives Iran full control over what information is released publicly about the contents of the flight recorders.

Yenin's tweet appeared to clash with Annex 13 requirements, as it lifted the veil on what has been a long, stalled process by Canada, Britain, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Sweden — the countries that lost citizens when the plane was destroyed — to force Iran to co-operate.

"Grateful to all partners who helped bring this moment closer," Yenin tweeted, saying the black boxes were "read out and deciphered successfully. The transcript confirmed the fact of illegal interference with the plane. We are waiting for the Iranian side for the first round of talks next week."

The tweet offered no additional explanation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is publicly pressing Iran to share the contents of the flight recorders.

"That analysis now needs to be shared promptly with the international community to ensure a complete, credible and transparent flight safety investigation," Champagne tweeted on Thursday.

Champagne said earlier this week the flight recorders would form one part of a flight safety investigation as well as an international criminal investigation to identify the people responsible for shooting down the plane.

Iran initially denied it shot down the plane but was forced to admit responsibility after video footage on social media showed a missile striking the jet. The tragedy unfolded as Iran fired missiles at American military bases inside neighbouring Iraq after the U.S. killed a top Iranian general.

Two investigators from Canada's Transportation Safety Board took part in examining a readout of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from the downed plane after they arrived in Paris earlier this week after a long negotiation with Tehran.

That was a long-anticipated development due to what Champagne has branded as Iranian "stalling."

Iran's delegate to the International Civil Aviation Organization told the UN agency on March 11 that the flight recorders would be sent to Ukraine's aviation investigators by March 25, but later blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for a delay.

The TSB said in a statement on Friday that a team of international investigators had completed a preliminary analysis of the data from the flight recorders of the Ukrainian passenger jet shot down by Iran in January.

The TSB noted international law prevented the sharing any specific information, but Canada is urging Iran to release factual information from the recorders as soon as possible.

In an interview earlier this week, TSB chair Kathy Fox said Canada wants Annex 13 changed but that is a long process that likely won't affect the current investigation.

The current law still permits Iran to ask for help from another country or designate another country to lead the investigation. That was the case when Ukraine turned to the Netherlands to lead the probe into the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels over eastern Ukraine six years ago.

Fox said in a statement on Friday that this initial review of the data is an important milestone, but she stressed the investigation is far from over.

Fox said she knows families are seeking answers to the tragedy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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