Workers have begun removing the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, four months after it was shot down killing 298 passengers and crew.

Sunday's operation was being carried out under the supervision of Dutch investigators and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The recovered fragments will be loaded onto trains and ferried to the government-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The investigation into the cause of the crash is being conducted there and in the Netherlands.

Investigators from the Netherlands heading the probe into the disaster, in which 193 Dutch citizens died on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July, said it could take "several days".

"Today the recovery of wreckage from flight MH17 has started. The Dutch Safety Board commissioned the recovery and transportation to the Netherlands of the wreckage as part of the investigation into the cause of the crash of flight MH17," the Dutch experts said in a statement.

A rebel official quoted by the AFP news agency said they hoped to finish the operations in the next ten days and that work would start on the largest chunks of fuselage first.

Some 15 members from the rebel recovery crew used a crane to winch wreckage onto two trucks waiting nearby to shift the evidence from the scene.

Putin 'needed sleep'

The team faces a race against time to complete the recovery effort before harsh winter conditions in the former Soviet state make it difficult to continue.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying pro-Moscow rebels with the missile that shot down the Boeing 777 in an incident that stepped up international pressure on Moscow over its role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Moscow and the separatists have strenuously denied they were behind the downing of the plane, pointing the finger of blame instead at Kiev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin came under fresh pressure over Ukraine and the MH17 shooting-down at the G20 summit in Brisbane.

After a series of frosty exchanges with his fellow leaders, Putin left the summit ahead of schedule on Sunday, saying he needed to catch up on some sleep.

The MH17 probe team has so far managed to collect and identify the remains of 289 victims from the tragedy but recovery operations have been disrupted by fierce fighting in the area between government forces and rebels.

Source: Agencies