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23 MH17 victims identified

The Dutch-led forensic team working on the remains of the passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has identified 23 victims so far.

Justice Ministry spokesman Jean Fransman said those include 18 Dutch, two Malaysians, a Canadian, a German and a Briton. All their families have been notified, the ministry added.

Flight 17 was shot down last month over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard. Pro-Russian rebels have publicly denied downing the plane but one top rebel has said the insurgents were involved.

In all, 228 coffins have been brought to the Netherlands but it is not known how many victims that represents. The forensic experts at a military base in Hilversum are using DNA samples and dental records in a process expected to take months.

The head of the forensic team, Arie de Bruyn, said the 228 coffins "sometimes contained remains of more than one or two people".

He said remains have been sorted into 703 groups.

"As you can see right away, that's many more than the victims who were on the plane," he said.

Around 176 bodies are more or less intact, leaving 527 sets of partial remains, he said.

The dental records and fingerprints of victims have been gathered and DNA profiles are being assembled.

"Whenever there's an identification, even if it's so difficult to tell families that it's only a part of a body, we'll still tell them," he vowed.

On Wednesday, the Dutch prime minister called off further attempts to recover remains from the crash area, citing danger to the recovery workers from nearby fighting between the rebels and Ukrainian forces.

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