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#MH17: Australia and Netherlands join renewed push to secure crash site

A piece of debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty ImagesA piece of debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands and Australia are standing by to send police and troops to the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, in an attempt to finally secure the scene of the disaster, more than a week after the plane came down killing all 298 people on board.

Pro-Russia separatists in the area, who are accused of bringing down the plane using a surface-to-air missile, have said they would welcome international investigators but the presence of foreign forces in the volatile region presents challenges, with military confrontation between Ukraine’s forces and rebels rumbling on in the immediate vicinity.

Of the dead, 193 were Dutch citizens and 28 were Australians. Many of the bodies were removed from the site by local emergency workers and transferred by train to Kharkiv, from where they are being flown in batches to the Netherlands. But observers say there are still human remains at the site and part of the task of the 40 Dutch police who are due to arrive will be to ensure that all the bodies and body parts are found.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that the contingent would be unarmed. “If we go with a big military presence, the situation could become more unstable than stable,” he said.

The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said his country was also ready to send police and had officers standing by in Europe, ready to travel to the site if agreement is achieved.

“This will be a police-led humanitarian mission,” the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said in Kharkiv, where she has been overseeing the arrival and onward flights to the Netherlands for the remains. “And there will be body identification and forensic experts. And of course we will ensure they are safe, that they will have protection.”

In the week since MH17 came crashing to the ground the site has remained unsecured, with open access to media and locals. So far, the only international monitors at the site have been observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), joined by a handful of international investigators. There has been anger at allegations of looting as well as suggestions that some of the rebels could be attempting to cover up potential evidence. Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE, said observers had found identity cards and credit cards at the site on Friday and added that people were seen moving parts of the fuselage.

A rebel fighter who arrived at the scene soon after the crash told the Guardian on Friday that he and his men had found locals looting items from the site and taking pieces of fuselage to sell as scrap metal.

The question of looting was again raised on Friday after a local woman apparently posted photographs on Instagram of herself wearing makeup apparently taken from the site. The photograph was geolocated to the town of Torez, near the crash site, and the caption was: “Mascara from Amsterdam, well, from the field if you know what I mean.”

The Instagram account was later deleted after the woman received hundreds of angry messages. One user who initially “liked” the Instagram photograph confirmed to the Guardian that the account was real, but claimed the mascara was not stolen from the wreckage of MH17.

The most problematic element of the Dutch and Australian missions will be security. Although both Ukrainian forces and the rebels have promised to observe a ceasefire in the immediate area around the crash site, fighting close to the regional capital, Donetsk, has intensified in recent days, with heavy shelling audible even in the centre of Donetsk in the early hours of Friday morning. The president, Petro Poroshenko, is keen to end the insurgency in the east of the country before Ukraine’s independence day on 24 August, but serious fighting will be required to dislodge the rebels from Donetsk, with inevitable civilian casualties.

Human Rights Watch said Grad rocket attacks had killed 16 people in Donetsk in recent days, in what “may constitute war crimes”. The organisation said the evidence pointed to Ukrainian forces being responsible, despite denials in Kiev.

Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing the other of shelling across the border. Ukraine says Russia has carried out nightly shelling into its territory in recent days, and also accuses the Russians of shooting down Ukrainian planes from inside Russia.

In turn, Russia claimed the Ukrainians fired mortar rounds into Russia on Friday.

A statement from Russia’s investigative committee said: “Those who shot from Ukraine carried out the shooting purposefully with an intent to kill Russian law enforcement officials.

“It was only the poor preparation of the Ukrainian military and the timely evacuation of law enforcement officers under the cover of armoured transport vehicles that did not allow the shooters to realise their intention.”

Also on Friday, the Pentagon said it believed Russia was planning to supply multiple launch rocket systems to the rebels in east Ukraine, indicating that satellite pictures showed the systems approaching the border and a transfer was expected “in the very near future … potentially today”.

The Guardian.

Australia sends 100 more police for #MH17 mission, as rhetoric softens

Tony Abbott and AFP commissioner Tony Negus in Canberra on Friday. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAPTony Abbott and AFP commissioner Tony Negus in Canberra on Friday. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

Australia is sending 100 more federal police officers to Europe in the hope they will be able to join a Dutch-led mission to secure the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Tony Abbott said some of the police could be armed and backed up by defence personnel, as he rejected suggestions the fall of the Ukrainian government could affect the completion of a deal with Ukraine to enter the site.

The Australian prime minister also emphasised that the mission’s aim was merely to bring back the remains of loved ones, not to engage in “the politics of eastern Europe” – an apparent signal that he would refrain from further forthright criticism of Russia or pro-Russian rebels as efforts continue to seek acceptance for an international mission to enter the site.

The 298 people who died in the apparent shooting-down of the plane in eastern Ukraine last week included 38 Australian citizens or permanent residents. On Friday evening the Australian government revised that number up from 37 after information came to light about a New Zealand citizen who was a long-term resident in Victoria.

The pre-deployment of 100 Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers is in addition to the 90 officers who have already been sent to Europe to take part in the international police mission.

The AFP commissioner, Tony Negus, said 50 officers had been sent to London while 40 were in Ukraine and the Netherlands. It would be one of the largest overseas police delegations since the 2002 Bali bombings, Negus said.

In an update to the media on Friday, Abbott said Ukraine had formally delegated leadership of the investigation to the Netherlands, and Australia was close to finalising an agreement with Ukraine to allow the deployment of federal police to the site.

Abbott said the deal was unaffected by the resignation of Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, after the collapse of the governing coalition. He said Australia’s agreement would be with the president, Petro Poroshenko, and would require the approval of the Ukrainian parliament “but nothing that’s happened overnight is expected to hinder that”.

The Netherlands will provide about 40 unarmed police to the MH17 crash site, media reports indicate.

But Abbott raised the prospect of some of the AFP officers being armed and backed up by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

“Many of the AFP deployed won’t be armed, some of them could be armed, and yes there will be some ADF as part of this deployment,” Abbott said.

Abbott said a “very modest” ADF team was in Ukraine, led by a colonel who was a liaison officer, several planning personnel and a personal protection team for the envoy and former defence chief Angus Houston.

Negus said the safety of officers was paramount and it had been “well documented this is a difficult part of the world at the moment”.

“We will be deploying in there in an unarmed capacity,” Negus said.

“There may be some members that can be armed, but if this mission goes ahead, it will be led by the Dutch. We’ll be working hand in glove with the Dutch to make sure that this mission is done as safely as possible.”

Abbott said the mission was still “very much in the planning stages” and humanitarian in nature. He said the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had been “full of sympathy, as you’d expect from another human being, for what’s happened to 37 families in Australia and he certainly has been publicly and privately supportive of securing the site”.

Abbott said the discovery of more wreckage and remains in a heavily wooded area showed it was more important than ever to properly secure the crash site.

“Others can engage in the politics of eastern Europe. All we want to do is claim our dead and bring them home,” he said.

Asked whether this was a sign he was stepping away from strong criticism of Russia to increase the chances of a team being allowed to enter the crash site, Abbott said: “What I’ve tried to do over the last week since this atrocity took place has been to respond appropriately to the events of the particular time. What we are focused on now, what we are solely and wholly focused on now, is Operation Bring Them Home. That’s what we’re focused on.”

The acting opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, said Labor supported the deployment of AFP officers and potential ADF back-up.

“This is a very dangerous area of Ukraine, there are heavily armed rebels on the site,” she said. “They have been haphazard about allowing access to the site, it’s plain that not all of the rebel groups are cohesive, that there are different units operating that don’t follow a clear command structure.

“So, making sure that Angus Houston, that our police, federal police … any consular officials who are on the site are safe – if that takes Australian defence personnel, then of course we support that.”

In a phone conversation with Abbott on Friday, the US president, Barack Obama, praised Australia’s leadership and indicated the US would co-ordinate closely with Australia, a White House spokesman said.

Abbott later told reporters it was an international mission “not a US operation”, but Obama had voiced his “full support for what Australia and other countries have in mind”.

Abbott said the personnel leaving Australia would include Dr Simon Walsh, a trauma expert who led the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami.

via Australia sends 100 more police for MH17 mission, as rhetoric softens | World news | theguardian.com.

#MH17: Inside Ukraine’s ‘village of the dead’ and the tragic tale of body Number 26

The body of a woman in her 50s — referred to only as MH17 passenger number 26 — fell through the roof of Inna Tipunova's kitchen. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp AustraliaThe body of a woman in her 50s — referred to only as MH17 passenger number 26 — fell through the roof of Inna Tipunova’s kitchen. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

A RESIDENT of the tiny Ukraine hamlet of Rassypnoye has told of the horrific moment a body from MH17 ploughed through her roof — and how she initially assumed it was a bomb.

Like so many of her neighbours in the so-called ‘village of the dead’, Inna Tipunovais is appalled at the time it is taken authorities to get to them.

Warning: Graphic details

She knows her ‘corpse’ only by the moniker Body 26 but the 60-year-old believes their lives will forever be intertwined.

“I want to know about her, who she was, her name, these things but they just call her ‘Number 26’,” Inna said emotionally.

Inna is standing inside her son’s granny flat at the side of her home and looking up to the roof where the body crashed through and into the deep blue summer sky above.

“The police tell me this ‘we call her Number 26’ before they put all of her in a black bag and carried her away. It took then a while to find all of her. It was very sad”

A body, known only as ‘number 26’, landed in Inna Tipunova's kitchen. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp AustraliaA body, known only as ‘number 26’, landed in Inna Tipunova’s kitchen. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

Inna was up the road visiting a friend when her 27-year-old son Alexander rang her and said a bomb had smashed through the roof of their home in the rural village of Rassypnoye outside Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

He was afraid the bomb may go off but the reality was worse. “26” was a passenger on-board Flight MH17 when it was downed, who crashed through the roof of the small white washed home unit. The impact sheered her in half and also tore off some of her limbs and when Inna returned home she saw the blood and “other things” smeared across the walls.

“She was only half a person but she was a woman, maybe in her 50s but her head …. and her foot they found that up there in the roof still, but she was here with us in the house. We know the situation of war and are so aware of bombs dropping and we thought it was a bomb but it was worse. I know this is all part of war but it is very sad.”

Inna Tipunova waited at least a day for authorities to remove the corpse which ploughed through her roof in the Ukraine hamlet of Rassypnoye. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp AustraliaInna Tipunova waited at least a day for authorities to remove the corpse which ploughed through her roof in the Ukraine hamlet of Rassypnoye. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

The body was taken away but not for a while – which was terribly distressing for all. Lime powder is now scattered on the floor where there were pools of blood but the stench of death remains as do blood-spattered pots and pans and in the splintered rafters some human flesh.

“Tell everyone how it is truthfully, everyone must know,” she says.

Everyone in the rural village has a similar story, some even worse than Inna’s.

But they also wanted to share with News Corp Australia their stories. No-one had spoken to them about their distress not even the authorities and they were pleased to share summer fruits and tales of horror some just too graphic to print.

It was a quiet hamlet of little more than two dozen or so farm houses early last week but by last Thursday it had become the village of the dead.

There’s Inna’s elderly neighbour local farmer Sascha – he too had a passenger from the Malaysian Airlines flight drop through his roof.

A passenger from the Malaysian Airlines flight landed in Sasha's place. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp AustraliaA passenger from the Malaysian Airlines flight landed in Sasha’s place. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

Tatiana said it was “raining humans” as she tended the fields and now can’t erase the scene from her mind. Nor can Liliya Alexandrovnr Kuhta, 43, who with her daughter saw bodies and debris fall across the village. In all, 39 victims of the Boeing flight landed in the village.

“Everyone here cried for two days, cried and cried and cried, the crying was non-stop, how could you not? But then we knew what we had to do.

“We lined up shoulder-to shoulder with the local coal pit workers and walked through into the fields of Sun Flowers to find these people, they deserved respect and we went to get them.”

The coal pit workers also yesterday walked through large wheat belts looking for bodies.

Tatiana can’t erase the scene from her mind. Like so many in Rassypnoye, bodies came ‘raining down around her’. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp AustraliaTatiana can’t erase the scene from her mind. Like so many in Rassypnoye, bodies came ‘raining down around her’. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

Liliya points out where two bodies were immediately found in her village yesterday, then walks through the village’s three roads pointed out to the left and then the right and then the roof of a home, then a barn, then a field.

“Over there was a nine-month old baby, just nine months,” she said. “When the Sun Flowers fall (die) we will find more I know this. It’s terrible, sad. Everyone here believed it was a Ukraine fighter jet that shot the airline down. Who knows. But Australia and these countries should come here, these people need a memorial. Tell them to build a memorial here.”


Flight MH17: International Aids Society (IAS) Statement

International AIDS Society

The International AIDS Society (IAS) today expresses its sincere sadness at receiving news that a number of colleagues and friends en route to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight that has crashed over Ukraine earlier today.

At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy.

International Aids Society (IAS).