Abbott offers police for MH17 site
The Prime Minister confirms the pre-deployment of 50 AFP officers to help ensure a thorough investigation is carried out at the crash site.PT2M27S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3chrh 620 349 July 24, 2014
Fifty Australian federal police have been pre-deployed to London ahead of a potential mission to Ukraine to help secure the crash site of the downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin about the plan overnight.
And while details such as whether the police would be armed have not yet been finalised, Mr Abbott said he expected the police would be on the ground for "a couple of weeks or so".
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has released an official statement saying Tony Abbott made the offer during a phone conversation overnight. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Fairfax Media understands that three Australian officials have already arrived in Donetsk, the separatist-controlled city in Ukraine closest to the crash site.
The team consisted of two diplomats and a forensics expert.
On Thursday morning, the forensics expert began work at the crash site, alongside a small team of Malaysians who arrived the day before.
Mr Abbott revealed the move to put police officers on standby for a mission in Ukraine during a press conference in Canberra on Thursday afternoon, saying the task of bringing Australians killed in the disaster home was in "full swing".
Mr Abbott said he "would be very careful about putting any Australian personnel into harm's way" but that the crash site had become more "permissive" in recent days, with European officials now able to visit the site.
President Putin had said all the right things, Mr Abbot said, but confirmed the Russian president believed it was important the site was secured.
"On the site, it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels,'' Mr Abbott 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. So far he has been as good as his word.”
While the situation on the ground in Ukraine was more permissive than it had been, Mr Abbott said, there still had not been a thorough search at the crash site as “it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels, who most likely brought the plane down in the first place”.
The police would be sent to the Ukraine as part of an international team under UN authority, Mr Abbott said, subject to a memorandum of understanding being reached with the Ukraine.
“President Putin does think it is important that the site is secured by international police so that the thorough, impartial international investigation that the UN called for and that we all think is necessary can go ahead,’’ he said.
“The difficulty at the moment is that that site is controlled by armed men with a vested interest in the investigation.”
The exact circumstances under which the 50 Australian police would be deployed was yet to be determined, Mr Abbott said, who also admitted there would be some potential safety risks. It has not yet been determined whether the police would be armed or accompanied by military personnel.
"I accept that there is potential for difficulty, I absolutely accept that there is potential for difficulty but President Putin has said all the right things, we all know that the Russians do have some influence over at least some of the elements that are operating against the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.”
"Obviously I would be very careful about putting any Australian personnel seriously into harms way without appropriate protection.
Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian President released an official statement on his website saying Mr Abbott made the offer of Australian police during a phone conversation overnight.
Mr Abbott is cited in the statement saying of the Malaysia Airlines crash: ''It even can't be called tragedy. The thing that happened is atrocity.''
Mr Abbott is further quoted saying: ''We want to receive the assessment of experts to finally confirm the conclusions we've made on the basis of the previous analysis of remote surveillance data and our understanding of the situation.''
The Australian forces are expected to operate as part of a multinational effort probably led by the Dutch.
Mr Poroshenko said in his statement that he would help facilitate the investigation and would discuss the security issue further when he meets with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Dutch counterpart Franz Timmermans when they arrive in Kiev on Thursday.
There are now more than 200 Australian officials to support Operation Bring Them Home, including consular officials disaster experts, air transport safety investigators, federal police and defence personnel.