Dutch, Australian police in fresh bid for MH17 site access

28th July 2014, Comments 0 comments

Dutch and Australian police will make a fresh attempt on Monday to reach the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17 in insurgent-held east Ukraine, after heavy fighting nearby scuppered their previous effort.

The continuing unrest has also led Dutch authorities, who are leading a probe into the downing of the plane that killed all 298 on board, to conclude that it was unrealistic to send an armed mission to secure the site.

Amid international recriminations over the chaos on the ground blocking access to the site, both sides in Ukraine's war traded blame, with Kiev accusing the rebels of "destroying evidence" and the insurgents saying Ukraine's army was targeting civilians.

Washington released new photographs to bolster its claim that Russia, blamed by the West for abetting the insurgency by arming it -- including the missile that allegedly shot down MH17, was now taking a direct role in the conflict by firing into Ukraine, targeting the armed forces.

Meanwhile, Russia hit back by demanding the US "stop hindering" the work of monitors trying to check the situation on the ground.

The only point both sides appeared to agree on was the need for a ceasefire in east Ukraine, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

- Armed mission 'not realistic' -

After days of preparing an joint armed force with Australia to secure the crash site, the Netherlands on Sunday dropped plans to deploy the officers over fears of being dragged into Ukraine's conflict.

"Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is ... not realistic," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 193 people in the disaster, told journalists.

"We concluded with our international partners that there's a real risk of such an international military mission becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine," Rutte said, noting the proximity of the border with Russia.

Even an unarmed team of Dutch and Australian officers was forced to drop their plans to visit the site Sunday as heavy bombardments rocked towns close to the site, where the remains of some of the victims still lie decomposing under the summer sun.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop arrived in Kiev on Sunday to get the Ukrainian parliament on board over the police deployment.

So far, investigators have visited the site only sporadically because of security concerns, even though both Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists had earlier called a truce in the immediate area around the site.

"Both sides have made assurances for the past 24 hours, there's been very intensive planning," said Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, before the team was due to set off for the crash site.

"We're aware that our time on the ground may be limited," he added.

Fighting continued overnight close to the crash site, with shelling heard in separatist bastion Donetsk, a city of one million some 60 kilometres (40 miles) away, which has been serving as a base for international monitors and journalists who are travelling regularly to the crash site.

An AFP reporter said bursts of gunfire also rang out in the centre of the city on Monday morning, a day after fighting claimed 13 lives, including those of two children in the city of Gorlivka, to the north of Donetsk.

Local authorities in the second main rebel stronghold of Lugansk said that five civilians were killed and 15 injured due to "constant firing" over the past 24 hours.

In Brussels, the European Union is drafting tougher sanctions against Russia -- which it accuses of abetting the insurgency by arming the rebels who allegedly shot down the aircraft.

Sanctions targeting economic sectors including an arms embargo are being considered, while on Tuesday the bloc is expected to unveil more names of individuals and entities sanctioned.

Moscow has blasted the move as "irresponsible", and warned that it jeopardised cooperation on security issues.

About 1,000 people have been killed in the deadly insurgency, and the United Nations estimates that some 230,000 have fled their homes.

The Red Cross has said the country is now in civil war -- a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.

© 2014 AFP

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