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MH17 families mulling lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines

[THE HAGUE] Dozens of families of those killed when a missile shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine two years ago are considering suing the carrier for compensation, their lawyer told AFP Tuesday.

All 298 passengers and crew - the majority of them Dutch - died when the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian-made BUK anti-aircraft missile over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

"We are still negotiating the case. But the offers that Malaysia Airlines are making are almost offensive for our clients," lawyer Veeru Mewa told AFP.

His office, Beer Advocaten, represents the families of 91 people killed in the disaster. But he is also leading a core group of Dutch lawyers, acting for the families of some 168 people who died on the ill-fated flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

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Under a 1999 international accord dubbed the Montreal Convention, the families have until the second anniversary of the disaster - July 17 - to decide if they want to press a lawsuit.

Mr Mewa said the airlines' insurers were "taking advantage of Dutch law" under which if someone dies in an accident then you can only claim "compensation for the funeral costs." "According to international standards that would mean a Dutch life is worth less than any other life," he said.

The lawsuit, if it is filed, would seek damages for the loss of earnings as well as compensation for the "psychological" trauma of those who lost loved ones.

The legal team was also thinking of holding Malaysia Airlines "liable for flying over Ukraine" which was in the middle of a conflict with government forces fighting pro-Russian rebels.

Many "families are struggling with real traumatic bereavement, real post-traumatic stress syndrome because of the images, seeing rebels walking on the gravesite, and not being able to go there, knowing that the Dutch government was not there to collect the bodies for quite a while," Mr Mewa said.

They just want "a just" settlement, and the offer so far on the table did not give them "satisfaction," he added.

It remains to be decided if the suit would be filed in The Hague or in Malaysia, he said, adding that as well as Dutch clients the group including Swiss, Indonesian and Australian nationals.

"Malaysia Airlines, immediately after the crash said that they will take responsibility and take care of the families. And the offers they are making is not suggesting that."

Officials with the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) concluded last year as part of an international investigation that the Boeing 777 was hit by a BUK missile.

In February, a separate criminal investigation team said they hoped within months to pinpoint the exact spot from which the missile was fired.