SYDNEY - The deployment of an international police force to secure the MH17 crash site in Ukraine is moving closer, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday, with 50 Australian officers on standby in London.
Abbott said the situation in eastern Ukraine was "more permissive it seems than it has been" and Canberra was ready to send police to the rebel-held territory as part of a Dutch-led investigation into the Malaysia Airlines crash.
"We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority," he said.
Abbott reiterated that there was still a need for a rigorous search of the debris zone to retrieve more victims' remains.
"On the site it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who brought the plane down in the first place," he said.
"There has still not been anything like a thorough professional search of the area where the plane went down, and there can't be while the site is controlled by armed men with vested interest in the outcome of the investigation."
Abbott's comments followed the arrival in the Netherlands Wednesday of the first bodies of those killed in the disaster. The remains were initially taken from the crash site to the government-held Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.
All 298 people onboard MH17, including 28 Australian nationals and nine residents, died when the aircraft was apparently shot down last week.
Dutch experts have said they were only sure 200 bodies had been recovered so far -- well short of accounting for all those onboard.
Abbott said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would travel to Kiev Thursday with her Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans to "seek a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine to allow international police to work to secure the site".
He said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko, and both supported Australia's push to secure the site.
"President Putin gave me assurances that he wanted to see the families of the victims satisfied," Abbott said.
"He wanted to see -- as a father himself -- grieving families given closure and as I said, so far he has been as good as his word and we want to ensure that he has a further opportunity to be as good as his word."
He added that the composition of the international police contingent "is something that we will continue to talk about" but he expected the deployment to last "a couple of weeks".
"The quicker we can deploy a team, the quicker we can get the area thoroughly and professionally searched, the better for everyone," Abbott said.