Police monitors from Australia and the Netherlands postponed plans Sunday to visit the Malaysian airliner crash site in eastern Ukraine, citing security concerns as fighting continues in the area.
All 298 people on the Boeing 777 were killed when the plane was shot down ten days ago en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It fell in a rebel-held area of the Donetsk region, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists has raged for months.
Dozens of Dutch and Australian officials arrived to investigate and aid in the recovery of human remains amid reports of evidence-tampering at the scene. Malaysia said Sunday it would also be sending dozens of police to support the investigation.
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai agreed last week to allow international investigators safe access to the site.
The international team said it will re-attempt to enter the debris field on Monday.
“There is fighting going on. We can’t take the risk,” Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the European security body OSCE’s special mission in Ukraine, told reporters in Donetsk on Sunday.
An AFP photographer heard artillery bombardments just a kilometer from the rebel-held town of Grabove next to the crash site.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s office said Sunday in a statement that Malaysian police will join the monitoring team in Ukraine to “provide protection for international crash investigators.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said unarmed Australian police will be sent to the rebel-held zone of the crash site as part of a Dutch-led police force to secure the area and help recover victims’ remains.
“Our objective is principally to recover the bodies. That is what the Australian people expect of us, that is what grieving families around the world deserve,” he said.
Focus on bodies
Dutch authorities say they have made the first identification of a crash victim. They released no details to the public, but say the family has been informed. Most of those killed were Dutch.
The remains of 227 of the victims have been flown to the Netherlands, but observers in Ukraine say some bodies still lie at the crash site in the summer heat. They say security concerns are making it difficult to collect the last of the remains.
Pro-Russia separatists have been blamed for shooting down the airliner with a surface-to-air missile.
A Ukrainian government spokesman said Saturday troops are bearing down on the city of Donetsk and that Russia continues building up its forces along Ukraine’s eastern border.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the United States is among those responsible for the conflict in Ukraine because of its strong support of the Kyiv government. Russia accuses Washington of pushing Kyiv to repress Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population.
U.S. President Barack Obama says Russia has supplied heavy weapons and support to the pro-Russian separatists. Obama has said it is likely the rebels shot down the airliner as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
U.S. officials say they believe another transfer of Russian weapons to Ukrainian separatists is “imminent.”