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MH17: Fighting delays AFP officers, experts access to Malaysia Airlines crash site in eastern Ukraine

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Updated July 28, 2014 00:56:04A team of unarmed federal police officers have been forced to delay th...

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  • MH17: Fighting delays AFP officers, experts access to Malaysia Airlines crash site in eastern Ukraine Updated July 28, 2014 00:56:04 A team of unarmed federal police officers have been forced to delay their planned visit to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine after the area was declared unsafe. The Australian Federal Police officers are among a team of international experts in the region as part of the mission to secure the site and recover crash victims' remains. Prime Minister Tony Abbott had said the Australian officers would join a Dutch contingent at the site from Sunday evening. However, Alexander Hug, the deputy head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, says the local conflict has affected the start of the mission. "We heard indications there's fighting going on. We can't take the risk," he said. "The security situation on the way to the site and on the site itself is unacceptable for our unarmed observer mission. "Fighting in the area will most likely affect [the] crash site." Analysis: ABC correspondent Stephen McDonell in eastern Ukraine On our way to the MH17 crash site we ran into a battle for control of the area around it. Local villagers warned that there were tanks and armoured personnel carriers ahead and soon enough they were driving down the street.
  • Just 12 kilometres from the aircraft wreckage we watched as Ukrainian government troops took back a village from Russian-speaking rebels. We watched people there and we can hear the machine guns and artillery in the distance and they've pulled together a few belongings and they're trying to get out of the region, trying to hail taxis or any cars travelling out towards Donetsk. There's a major offensive on at the moment from the Kiev government troops and it looks like they're trying to actually, bit by bit, retake this entire area from the rebels and that crash site has now been cut off from Donetsk. This appears to be a major offensive to cut off rebel supply lines. Australian and European police have suspended their on-site investigation because of safety fears. To tell the truth they can't get in there now and it's hard to see when they will be able to get in there again, certainly not from Donetsk. There's lots of fighting going on so I just can't see how they're going to be able to mount this investigation again in the near future. It's just going to be very difficult indeed. In The Hague, Dutch authorities confirmed that their team would remain in Donetsk, a rebel stronghold about 60 kilometres from the crash site, rather than head to the impact zone. "Because of fighting in the area, the situation is still too unstable to work at the crash site," the Dutch justice ministry said. The plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing 298 people including 38 Australian citizens and residents. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had earlier said an agreement had been reached with separatists to give international police access to the site so investigations into the disaster could begin. A statement issued by Mr Razak's office said the agreement with separatist leader Aleksander Borodai would "provide protection for international crash investigators" to recover human remains and ascertain the cause of the crash. Ukrainian forces have been pressing their military campaign against pro-Russian separatists, with shelling and explosions heard around Donetsk on Saturday. However, Ukraine's foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said it was rebels who had prevented the international team from reaching the crash site. "Terrorists back to their normal outrageous practice: they don't allow OSCE monitors to access the #MH17 site claiming Ukraine army is fighting nearby," Mr Klimkin said on Twitter. "Their argument is fake. Ukraine is committed to its unilateral ceasefire within a 40 km zone." 'Risky' mission necessary to 'do the right thing' by grieving families
  • On Sunday afternoon the Prime Minister said the AFP officers will work as part of a Dutch-led humanitarian mission to recover remains, seek to remove wreckage and help investigators. "Our objective is to get in, to get cracking, and to get out," he told a press conference. "We will stay as long as we can to do a professional job, but we won't stay a moment longer than we need to. "Our whole and sole purpose is to claim our dead and bring them home as quickly as we can and that is what this next phase of operation bring them home is all about." There will be a total of 49 police on site, 11 of whom will be Australian, although that number is expected to increase over the coming days. Mr Abbott has acknowledged it is a "risky" move but says his advice is that it is safer for the police not to be armed. "Frankly, we need to be prepared to take some risks in order to do the right thing by our dead and by their grieving families," he said. "But we want to minimise risk, we want to mitigate against risk, and the overwhelming advice ... is that the best way to do that is through that unarmed, police-led humanitarian mission." Police say the mission will be subject to daily security assessments. Mr Abbott says he would be "very surprised" if the operation takes longer than a few weeks. "The point I want to make is that there is tremendous goodwill from everyone involved," he said. "I think there is near universal acknowledgement that an atrocity has taken place... and that whatever the reasons, whatever the rights and wrongs, that we owe it to the dead and to the grieving families to do what we can to get the remains home as soon as possible." A total of 49 AFP officers have already flown to Kharkiv in readiness to help secure the crash site. Australian parents in emotional visit to crash site
  • An Australian couple who lost their daughter on the downed plane earlier became the first relatives of victims to visit the scene. Jerzy Dyczynski and Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski's 25-year-old daughter Fatima was on board MH17. Ms Rudhart-Dyczynski said her daughter, an aerospace engineering student, used to want to be a pilot and had been "full of life". Mr Dyczynski wore a white T-shirt with a picture of Fatima, who was making her way to Australia on the doomed flight to see her parents. Authorities had warned the Perth couple not to travel to eastern Ukraine, fearing they could get caught up in the ongoing conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Pro-Russian rebels have continually caused problems during the investigation, blocking access to the site and harassing recovery workers. The couple had first travelled to the Netherlands to provide medical and DNA samples to Dutch investigators examining human remains flown over from the site. Forensic experts have identified the first of the victims from the plane as a Dutch citizen. The Dutch justice ministry has not publicly released the identity of the victim, but said their family and the mayor of where they lived had been informed. A total of 227 coffins with the remains of people of 17 nationalities have been flown to the Netherlands for formal identification.
  • Photo: A Malaysian air-crash investigator works at the crash site. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: Military men carry a coffin containing the remains of a victim of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a ceremony at Eindhoven Airbase. (AFP: Robin van Lonhuijsen)
  • Photo: An Australian flag catches the wind alongside the multitude of flowers left at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. (Audience submitted: Ellyn Cook) Photo: Flowers left by parents of an Australian victim of the crash, are laid on a piece of the
  • Malaysia Airlines plane MH17, near the village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine, on July 26, 2014. (AFP: Bulent Kilic) Photo: A convoy of hearses, bearing remains of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash, are escorted along the A27 highway by military police to Hilversum, Netherlands, where they were to be identified by forensic experts, July 23, 2014. (Reuters: Marco de Swart )
  • Photo: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L), Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, (C), and wife Lynne, (R), watch as MH17 victims return to Eindhoven Airbase, the Netherlands, July 23, 2014. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
  • Photo: Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on July 19, 2014. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: A Twitpic from Australia's ambassador to Russia, Paul Myler, showing flowers and a note reading 'Forgive us' left outside the Australian embassy in Moscow, on July 19, 2014. Thirty-six Australian citizens and residents were among 298 killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. (Twitter: Paul Myler (@PosolAustralia))
  • Photo: People gather during a candlelight vigil for the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2014. (AFP: Manan Vatsyayana) Photo: Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors speak with a pro-Russian
  • separatist at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: The wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured two days after crashed in a sunf

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