The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to ask government forces to stop fighting around the Malaysia Airlines crash site after experts were unable to get there for a third day running.
"The prime minister this morning called the Ukrainian president with a request to halt hostilities around the crash site," Jean Fransman, a spokesman for the Dutch PM, told AFP. "Rutte expressed his concern about the fact it appeared the investigators may today yet again not reach the site.”
The Dutch Ministry for Security and Justice confirmed that the team of forensic experts and police officers from the Netherlands and Australia had not even attempted to try and reach the place where the Boeing 777 was downed due to heavy fighting in the vicinity. This is the third day they have been prevented from reaching the site due to the conflict.
The Australian Federal Police again deemed the situation too risky without firm commitments from opposing Ukrainian and anti-government forces which would guarantee the investigators’ safe passage to the area.
Special envoy Angus Houston said there was a lot of fighting just south of the MH17 crash site and the situation remained “very fluid, very dynamic.”
“You just have to accept the fact that you don’t go into a fast-moving conflict with a mission like ours,” The Australian newspaper reported him as saying.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have been trying to negotiate the investigators’ passage to the crash site from the city, which is encircled by Ukrainian troops, but the message to let them pass has not been heeded by Ukraine government forces.
Anti-government forces have repeatedly tried to escort the unarmed investigators in a convoy to the crash site, but each time have found the situation too risky to push on.
Australian PM Tony Abbott, who met with his Cabinet’s National Security Committee in Canberra on Tuesday, said it was a “confused situation on the ground.’’
“There is fighting and it’s not just the anti-government forces, it’s the Ukrainian government as well,’’ Abbott said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a telephone conversation with US State Secretary John Kerry on Tuesday urged Washington to influence Kiev to achieve a prompt ceasefire and to start negotiations with southeast Ukraine.
Lavrov stressed the need to return to the accord achieved at Geneva on July 17, including an end to the use of force and to promptly start an open and accountable process of constitutional reform involving all regions of Ukraine.
The two diplomats also agreed to implement the UNSC resolution which demands the provision of an international and independent investigation into the causes of the MH17 disaster and a ceasefire in the region surrounding the crash site.
Poroshenko ordered a ceasefire within a radius of 40 kilometers of the crash; however, this was broken a week ago, when the Ukrainian Air Force carried out a missile strike 30 kilometers from the MH17 crash site.
The Ukrainian government hopes to be allowed to visit the Malaysian Airlines crash site in the next few days or hours, said the acting vice Prime Minister, Vladimir Groisman, who is leading a Ukrainian state commission to find out the causes of the plane crash.
“We have reason to believe that there are some bodies remaining, where the plane came down," he told journalists on Tuesday. He also added that a plan had been drawn-up, which would see the armed forces enter the territory where the MH17 plane was downed. “I hope in the next few hours or days there will be positive results,” Groisman said.
All efforts to visit the wreckage will be suspended while negotiations continue to secure safe access to the site.
“The mission will again attempt to enter the crash site when suitable arrangements are in place to provide an appropriately secure area for officers to begin the search for the remains and belongings of victims,” the investigation team added, AFP reported.
There is clear frustration on behalf of the Australians and Dutch, who are desperate to get to the site as soon as possible.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking before holding more talks with the Ukrainian government in Kiev, said investigators remained undeterred and would continue to seek access to the site until the job of retrieving bodies and carrying out a thorough investigation was completed.
“We are assessing the situation, day by day, hour by hour, and won’t take any unacceptable risks,” she added.
Air Chief Marshal Houston added: “As soon as a window of opportunity opens we are going to go in there and get out quickly again, hopefully in a matter of two to three weeks.’’
There are still human remains and important forensic information to be retrieved from the area where the Boeing 777 was brought down 11 days ago with the loss of 298 people. 282 bodies have already been found, while on Monday, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic stated that they are still looking for 16 bodies, which have not been recovered following the accident.