Federal Politics

We're not comfortable going into MH17 crash site unarmed but we're dealing with the risks: AFP's Andrew Colvin

A top AFP officer has admitted he was initially not comfortable with deploying unarmed Australian officers to the site of downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

But deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin says after assessing the risks, he believes it is safe to send AFP officers into the crash site – which has now become a battleground for Ukrainian and the Russian backed rebels.

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MH17: experts abandon crash site

International experts abandon their plans to go to the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed because of fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops in the area.

A team of Australian police officers will try again to access the site to retrieve victims' remains after their first attempt was aborted due to heavy fighting overnight.

Asked if he was "comfortable" with sending his officers into the area unarmed, the deputy commissioner said the mission was new territory for the AFP.

"Comfortable is a broad word, no we can't be comfortable but we have ... dealt with the risks to a point where we wouldn't send our people into a situation where we didn't think they would be safe," he said.

Mr Colvin said while the AFP had responded to disasters, terrorist attacks and conflicts in the past, they had never done so without weapons.


"We haven't deployed in a conflict zone in this manner before," he said.

"We've said all along that this is a risky mission but we are working on the basis that if it's a permissive environment we will go in, if it's a permissive environment those risks are reduced."

Fighting continues: Armed pro-Russian separatists on the move during clashes that left at least  three people dead in ...
Fighting continues: Armed pro-Russian separatists on the move during clashes that left at least three people dead in Donetsk. Photo: AFP

He said the AFP were in "direct contact" with the rebels through Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe intermediaries and believed the multinational team is “welcome” at the site but has to wait until it is safe on the ground.

"We’d have to be satisfied that whoever holds the ground holds it in a manner that they can assure our safety.

Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin.
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

"We need perspective on what that welcome looks like but this is a contested zone so there is active fighting going on."

Mr Colvin said the AFP’s sole focus was finding and gathering the remains of victims still at the site as quickly as possible.

Mr Colvin said Australians need to be prepared for the possibility of some victims remains being left behind due to the "trauma" to bodies sustained from the plane being shot down and the "added complications" of being denied early access to the site.

"We have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that not all remains will ultimately be recovered," he said.

The government has stressed the mission is a humanitarian one, however the multinational team, consisting of 11 AFP officers and 38 Dutch officials, will also try and recover any wreckage they believe will assist official investigators.

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