Australia readies 50 police to send to Ukraine

AP News
Posted: Jul 24, 2014 5:28 AM
Australia readies 50 police to send to Ukraine

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has sent 50 police to London in anticipation of deploying them to Ukraine to secure the Malaysian plane crash site as part of a potential U.N. team that's under consideration, the Australian prime minister said Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he accepted "there is potential for difficulty" in deploying police in an area of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists who are suspected to have shot down the airliner.

Details such as which countries would contribute, whether officers would be armed and protected by international troops were yet to be agreed, Abbott said.

But he expected their mission would be complete within a few weeks of arriving.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was traveling with her Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans to Kiev to seek a memorandum of understanding with the Ukraine government that will allow international police to secure the crash site, Abbott said.

"We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority," Abbott told reporters.

He said that the task of the international police team would be to ensure a full and thorough search of the site so that all victims' remains were recovered and sent to the Netherlands for identification.

The search would also gather evidence for a criminal investigation headed by the Netherlands.

Abbott said he had personally spoken overnight with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the need to secure the site where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was downed by a surface-to-air missile last week. All 298 passengers and crew were killed.

Bishop presented an Australia-sponsored resolution to the U.N. Security Council that passed unanimously on Monday demanding that rebels cooperate with an independent investigation and allow all remaining bodies to be recovered. The first bodies of the crash victims arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday and a second airlift was planned Thursday.

Australian hopes that Russia's support for the resolution will influence the rebels to obey it.

"President Putin does think it's important that the site be secured by international police so that the thorough, impartial, international investigation that the U.N. called for and that we all think is necessary can go ahead," Abbott said.

He added: "President Putin gave me assurances that he wanted to see the families of the victims satisfied. He wanted to see, as a father himself, grieving families given closure."

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While Australia's priority is repatriating the remains of 37 Australian citizens and residents killed in the disaster, the government also wants the crash scene thoroughly searched for evidence to bring those who shot down Flight 17 to justice.

Nearly a week later, international investigators still don't have unfettered access to the crash site, some remains have yet to be recovered, and armed separatists roam the region.

Abbott said the situation at the crash site had become "more permissive" since the U.N. resolution.

"On the site, it's still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who most likely 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 came down and there can't be while the site is controlled by armed men with a vested interest of the outcome of any investigation," he added.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he regretted that Malaysian victims of the disaster could not be sent home before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.