Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Armed mission to secure site 'not realistic', says Dutch PM

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addresses the press in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 24, 2014, regarding Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in eastern Ukraine. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addresses the press in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 24, 2014, regarding Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in eastern Ukraine. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

AMSTERDAM (Reuters/AFP) - The Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia have ruled out sending an international armed mission to secure the site in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed, the Dutch Prime Minister said on Sunday, after 13 people, including two children, were killed in fierce fighting in the insurgent-held Ukraine.

"We concluded there was a real risk that an international mission would immediately be involved in the conflict in Ukraine," Mr Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague, adding that it was "not realistic" to attain military dominance over heavily armed separatists in an area so near the Russian border.

"Not even if we choose for a massive military committment, even then getting the military upper hand is not realistic," Mr Rutte said amid discussions about how to secure the site so remaining bodies can be removed and crash investigators get to work.

Mr Rutte said that "all options" were being looked at for securing the site, and that the security situation was being assessed on a daily baisis.

Heavy shelling around the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17 on Sunday forced Dutch and Australian police to scrap a planned trip there.

The unarmed contingent of law enforcement officers was due to head to the location 10 days after the disaster following a deal with rebels aimed at allowing a long-delayed probe to go ahead.

But international observers overseeing the trip had to abruptly ditch their plans after clashes shattered a supposed truce between government forces and insurgents in the area around the site, where some remains of the 298 victims still lie decomposing under the summer sun.

"There is fighting going on. We can't take the risk," said Mr Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the European security body OSCE's special mission in Ukraine.

"The security situation on the way to the site and on the site itself is unacceptable for our unarmed observer mission," he told reporters in the insurgent stronghold Donetsk, the biggest city in the region.

"We concluded with our international partners that there's a real risk of such an international military mission becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine," Mr Rutte said.

The conflict "would then acquire an international dimension that would lead to further escalation," added the Premier. "So the success of the repatriation mission depends on preventing an escalation in this area. The less potential the mission has for escalation, the more quickly we will be able to complete our task," he said.

Forensic experts were prevented by heavy fighting on Sunday from getting access to the crash site to recover the remains of the airliner's 298 passengers - most of them Dutch and Australian - that have not yet been returned to the Netherlands for identification.

Over 200 bodies have been sent to the Netherlands for identification. The Netherlands lost 193 citizens on the flight, and is in charge of the investigation into the crash.

Fighting was raging elsewhere as the Ukrainian army pushes on with its offensive to retake the industrial east.

The local authorities reported at least 13 people including two children aged one and five killed on Sunday in fierce combat in rebel holdout Gorlivka, about 45km to the north of Donetsk, and which has a population of about a quarter of a million.

Ukraine's military accused insurgent fighters of firing unguided Grad rockets at residential blocks in the city "aiming to bring discredit to the Ukrainian army and frighten the non-combattants".

A rebel commander from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic told a press conference that the situation in Gorlivka was "fine for the moment".

The outskirts of mining hub Donetsk itself was also subject to intense bombardment throughout the night, some of it apparently Grad rocket fire.

The city of one million has been serving as a base for international monitors and journalists who are travelling daily to the crash site.

Ukraine's anti-terrorism office said a female Polish journalist working for pro-Kiev Espreso TV was seriously wounded in clashes the Lugansk region and evacuated to the government-held city of Kharkiv.

The Dutch authorities have identified the first victim, after 227 coffins with remains inside were flown to the Netherlands for identification.

The insurgents said they have also handed over a sealed train carriage filled with victims' belongings to the Dutch.

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