UPDATED: Foreign Minister Børge Brende said on Friday morning there was nothing to suggest any Norwegians had been on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday evening. Later on Friday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg expressed her sympathy to the families of the victims, but urged restraint in the “propaganda war” over who was responsible.
“I have been in contact with the Foreign Ministry’s crisis team, and they say that nothing suggests there were Norwegians on board, but this is not officially confirmed,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
All 298 people on board were feared dead. Many of the victims’ nationalities had been confirmed by Friday morning. The passengers included 154 Dutch, 45 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine from the UK, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian.
Brende contacted his Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans on Friday morning, expressing his deepest sympathy to the many families affected in the Netherlands. “An unimaginable tragedy,” he wrote in the message. He also tweeted “I was truly shocked and saddened to learn a Malaysia Airl (sic) jet was shot down in eastern Ukraine — an international investigation is needed.”
He said the claims made by both pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities that the other was to blame for shooting down the airline were incredibly serious. “I have been in contact with the embassy in Kiev, and they have not received any confirmation on what happened. What’s important now is that we get a full international investigation. This also shows the importance of urgently getting in place a ceasefire in east Ukraine. It is starting to develop into a lawless state, regardless of any shooting down.”
He would not be drawn on Norway’s reaction if it turned out Russia had supplied the separatists with the weaponry used to shoot down the passenger plane. “Now we’re into speculation, but if the separatists are behind it, it is terribly serious,” Brende said.
Thoughts with the families
Later on Friday, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said it was a tragic event. “Our thoughts go out first and foremost to all the families and relatives who have lost their nearest,” she told NRK. “We have sent our condolences to the Netherlands and Malaysia, where many of the victims came from.”
In English, she tweeted “I’m saddened by the terrible Malaysian Airlines incident. My thoughts are with all those affected.”
Russia and Ukraine had both blamed each other as the scale of the tragedy became apparent on Friday, which Solberg did not wish to get involved in. “A propaganda war is going on between Ukraine, Russia and the separatists,” she said. “I think it is sad if that should stop us getting a thorough international investigation. That is first and foremost what we must have to determine who was responsible. Then we must take steps accordingly.”
Many of those on board flight MH17 were headed to an AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. Bjørg Sandkjær, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and conference delegate said it began with a minute’s silence.
“I think it is early to start speculating over who may have shot down the plane,” he said. “First and foremost I would say that we support the UN Secretary General’s initiative to have an independent investigation. All parties must participate in that independent investigation, and get to the bottom of the cause.”