Australia, Netherlands plan fresh attempt to reach MH17 site

Australia, Netherlands plan fresh attempt to reach MH17 site

SYDNEY - A team of Dutch and Australian police will on Monday again attempt to reach the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a senior Australian official said, although he warned the situation was volatile.

An unarmed team of Dutch and Australian officers was forced to drop their plans to visit the site in eastern Ukraine Sunday as heavy bombardments rocked towns close to the area where the plane was shot down, killing all 298 on board.

And tensions led the Netherlands to scrap a plan to send an international armed mission in to secure the site in the rebel-contested area, with the Dutch Prime Minister saying it was "not realistic".

Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin said another attempt would be made Monday.

"As you know, the mission was aborted overnight due to the intensity of the fighting occurring both on the route into the crash site as well as at the crash site itself," he told reporters.

"I recently got off the phone from our commander in Ukraine about the activities expected again for today and again in company with our Dutch counterparts and the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitors we will attempt again to gain access to the site today.

"Of course it is a highly volatile area and I should stress that safety is paramount in our minds, safety of the Australian and Dutch officials and the OSCE officers as well." Earlier Monday, Colvin cautioned that if fighting in the area was a genuine offensive to take back ground, "we may be some days before we can feel safe and secure to go back in there".

He added that Australian police would have no role in securing the site and would only be involved in a detailed examination of the crash area, which Colvin estimated would take five to seven days initially.

Dutch authorities on Sunday said the team was currently in Donetsk, a rebel stronghold about 60 kilometres (35 miles) from the crash site.

Armed mission 'not realistic'

So far investigators have visited the site only sporadically because of security concerns, even though a truce had been called in the immediate area around the site by both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists.

The Netherlands and Australia together lost some 221 citizens in the crash.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived in Kiev on Sunday for talks with the Ukrainian government to try to ensure the safety of the Dutch and Australian team.

"We are aware this plane was shot down over a war zone and that news of the fighting has intensified is perhaps inevitable, but we are planning for those risks," she said.

"We will mitigate those risks and make sure that police investigators are safe when they go in. We won't take steps that will put them in danger." On Sunday, the Netherlands said plans to send an international armed mission to secure the site were "not realistic" amid fears a deployment risked being dragged into the conflict in east Ukraine.

"Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is according to our conclusion not realistic," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague.

"We concluded... there's a real risk of such an international military mission becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine." Colvin confirmed that the Australian police would be unarmed.

"Quite frankly, I think taking firearms into this situation really only exacerbates it and puts us at more risk so we're satisfied that not taking arms is the best way to reduce the risk for us at the moment," he said.

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