The black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are being sent back to Kuala Lumpur after secret talks to secure them overnight.
A senior separatist leader, Aleksander Borodai, handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts in the city of Donetsk.
''Here they are, the black boxes,'' Borodai told a room packed with journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk.
Both sides then signed a document, which Borodai said was a protocol to finalise the procedure after lengthy talks with the Malaysians.
''I can see that the black boxes are intact, although a bit damaged. In good condition,'' Colonel Mohamed Sakri of Malaysian National Security Council said in extending his thanks to ''His Excellency Mr Borodai'' for passing on the recorders.
Borodai also said a train carrying the remains of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane catastrophe has reached Donetsk. It is on its way to Kharkiv, 300 km north-west.
After cautiously refusing to blame the pro-Russian rebels for shooting down MH17, Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak used secret diplomacy to reach an agreement for the transfer of the boxes as well as the bodies of those killed.
Under the agreement with Borodai, commander of the separatist forces in Donetsk, the bodies would be flown in a Dutch C-130 Hercules with Malaysian representatives to the Netherlands for identification.
Under the agreement international investigators will also be guaranteed safe access to the crash site near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine.
Najib has been criticised in Malaysia for failing to directly blame the separatists for bringing down the plane as anger grew across the country about the lack of dignity for the bodies, 43 of whom were Malaysians.
But he instead held a series of secret telephone calls with Borodai who is believed to have said he would only hand over the bodies and black boxes to Malaysia.
"In recent days there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel," Najib said in a statement released early this morning.
"But sometimes we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome," he said.
Najib stressed the agreement will depend on work and good faith by the separatists but added they have "so far given their co-operation.
He said only now can the investigation into the tragedy begin and the victims be given the "respect they deserve."
The prime minister has vowed to bring the Malaysian bodies home by next week, the end of the Muslim fast month, the most significant time of the year for Muslims.
Under Islam bodies are supposed to be buried within 24 hours.
"We need to know what caused the plane to crash and who was responsible for it so that justice can be done," Najib said.
Several Malaysian ministers, including transport minister Liow Tiong Lai, have been in Kiev helping to negotiate the agreement which achieved what more powerful nations, including Russia, had failed to achieve.
Malaysia was already mourning the loss on March 8 of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that mysteriously veered thousands of kilometres off course and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
Malaysian ministers and Malaysia Airlines have had to fend off accusations that MH17 should not have been flying over the Ukraine war zone, saying it was a normal route that was kept open by Ukraine authorities.
Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, has been played a leading role in trying to negotiate peace deals for insurgencies in both the Philippines and Thailand.
The shooting down of MH17 was deeply personal for Najib whose step-grandmother was on the plane.
The pro-government New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpr welcomed the news that the bodies would be flown to Amsterdam with a front page headline "breakthrough."
- Sydney Morning Herald