By Jona Kallgren and Lucien Kim Associated Press
KHARKIV, Ukraine — A small group of Dutch and Australian investigators walked the sprawling, unsecured site where Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 went down as their governments prepared police detachments they hope can help protect the crash area and help bring the last of the victims home.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his country was ready to send 40 unarmed military police to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to help investigators, while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said his government is close to a deal to send police. Australia has 90 federal police officers standing by in Europe.
The Boeing 777 went down July 17 as it headed to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down, likely by mistake, by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Ukrainian government forces.
Of the dead, 194 were Dutch citizens and 37 were Australian citizens or residents. Both countries’ governments have expressed determination to see the dead brought home and the crash investigated. Security concerns and rebel interference have delayed recovery of the bodies and limited investigators’ access to the site, more than a week after the crash.
“This will be a police-led humanitarian mission,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Kharkiv, where more remains were placed on flights to the Netherlands on Friday for identification and investigation. “And there will be body identification experts, forensic experts. And of course we will ensure that they are safe, that they will have protection.”
Bishop spoke to the crews of the two airplanes, an Australian C-17 and a Dutch C-130, who flew another 74 coffins from Kharkiv in government-controlled eastern Ukraine to Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
No plan for a large-scale deployment of experts and security personnel had been announced Friday, however, and the site remained largely unsecured. Four Australian and three Dutch investigators walked among the widely-scattered plane parts past two grazing cows near the village of Hrabove on a warm summer day. The investigators were accompanied by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The conflict continued, underlining security concerns, as the Ukrainian army on Friday claimed that soldiers came under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight and were attacked by rebels in several other places in the restive east.
The headquarters of the government’s military operation in the east listed at least seven locations where rebels attacked Ukrainian troops. They also claimed that attacks on two locations, including a border crossing, were supported by artillery fire from Russia.
Late on Thursday, Ukrainian troops entered the town of Lysychansk, which has been in rebel hands for several months, the military press office said. Rebels on Friday morning admitted in comments carried by Interfax that they had to flee the town, which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) north-west of the regional capital Luhansk.