Australian, Dutch forces prevented from taking control of MH17 crash site


Australian and Dutch officials are still negotiating the deployment of a multinational force of policemen and soldiers to the site of the Malaysian Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, reports

Four Australians and four Dutch investigators are already on the ground in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, and have visited the crash site several times in the past few days along with an OSCE observer team that has been based in the city for some time.

But The Hague and Canberra are both pushing for a larger multinational force from a “coalition of the grieving” to take control of the crash site.

Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, said on Saturday he would meet his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte to discuss how to secure full access to the site for investigators.

Mr Razak will fly to the Netherlands next week to plan the deployment of 30 investigators as part of a three-point deal reached with the pro-Russian rebels in control of the crash site last week.

Mr Razak said the rebels had already met the first two demands by returning the bodies of the victims and handing over the airliner’s flight recorders.

“My priority now is to ensure the third part of the deal is honoured, and that the international investigates are given full and secure access to the site.

Mr Rutte has already outlined plans to deploy 40 Dutch military policemen and 23 investigators to the site.

Both the Dutch and Australian governments are understood to have put special forces soldiers on standby to assist the investigations.

While a number of Dutch and Australian investigators have already assembled in the Ukrainian-held city of Kharkiv, 160 miles north of the crash site, their further deployment appears to be hindered by haggling with both the Ukrainian and rebel authorities.

Rebels told the OSCE observer team on Friday that they would prefer to limit the international presence at the scene to 25 or 30 people.

Meanwhile, the Australian deployment may be delayed until the Ukrainian parliament approves the moves.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, who is in Ukraine, signed an in-principle agreement on deployment with Pavlo Klimkin on Friday.

Volodymyr Groysman, the deputy prime minister handling Kiev’s response to the crash, said he expects the agreement to be ratified by parliament next.

It is not clear whether the Dutch and Australian governments have a direct line to the rebels, but they are believed to be negotiating access via a tripartite contact group involving Ukraine, Russia, and OSCE representatives.

Meanwhile, fighting continues unabated, with heavy exchanges of artillery fire in the Donetsk suburbs continuing overnight on Saturday.