Large police contingent heads to MH17 site
The Australian government is increasingly confident it will be only a matter of days before the remaining bodies of MH17 victims and their effects are transported from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.
Its optimism comes after a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and separatist leaders in the Belarusian capital Minsk and the successful mission of an advance team involving Australian and Dutch police.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman wrote on Twitter that within two days militants would allow passage of the bodies through the war torn Donetsk region.
The advance team identified a new, safer but longer route to the site.
This was the route a 14-vehicle convoy of up to 100 Australian and Dutch police and an team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe later took to reach the area in Donestk on Friday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the team would “start working in earnest” to recover further remains and the belongings of the passengers and crew of the Malaysia Airlines plane went down on July 17.
Ms Bishop, who was leaving Ukraine to return to Australia, said refrigerated vans would carry the remains, which would then be transferred to the Netherlands for identification.
“My work is done but the mission goes on,” she said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the advance team had itself recovered some remains.
Australian officials believe as many as 80 bodies are still at the site.
The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australians.
Mr Abbott said the Australian Federal Police and Dutch police mission was risky, given the continued fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the area.
But the government had taken the best expert advice and Australia’s special envoy Angus Houston was “plugged in” to the international team involved in the mission.
“But let’s not forget 298 innocent people have been murdered, 38 Australians have been murdered,” Mr Abbott said.
“We owe it to our dead to bring them back, we owe it to their families to bring them back.”
The advance team had paused for a moment’s silence at the crash site, almost two weeks to the hour since the plane went down.
Senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE met in Minsk as news came through of the successful advance mission.
A statement following the meeting said the senior representatives had committed to securing safe access by international investigators to the crash site until their work on the spot was completed.
There was also agreement on the release of hostages, improved monitoring of the ceasefire and better control and verification on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
Another meeting will be held next week.