The chances of Dutch and Australian police reaching the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are not good, and the effort could take days, a senior Australian official said Monday.
An unarmed team of Dutch and Australian officers was forced to drop their plans to visit the site Sunday as heavy bombardments rocked towns close to the area where the plane was shot down, killing all 298 on board.
And tensions were such that the Netherlands scrapped a plan to send an international armed mission in to secure the site, with the Dutch Prime Minister saying it was “not realistic”.
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin said it was not known when recovery teams will get to the impact zone.
“It doesn’t look good to be quite honest with you,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Obviously this fighting has taken us by surprise. If it is a genuine offensive to take back ground we may be some days before we can feel safe and secure to go back in there.”
He added that Australian police would have no role in securing the site and would only be involved in a detailed examination of the crash area, which Colvin estimated would take five to seven days initially.
Dutch authorities said the team would remain in Donetsk, a rebel stronghold about 60 kilometres (35 miles) from the crash site, for the time being.
So far investigators have visited the site only sporadically because of security concerns, even though a truce had been called in the immediate area around the site by both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists
The Netherlands and Australia together lost some 221 citizens in the crash.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived in Kiev on Sunday for talks with the Ukrainian government to try to ensure the safety of the Dutch and Australian team.
“We are aware this plane was shot down over a war zone and that news of the fighting has intensified is perhaps inevitable, but we are planning for those risks,” she said.
“We will mitigate those risks and make sure that police investigators are safe when they go in. We won’t take steps that will put them in danger.”
On Sunday, the Netherlands said plans to send an international armed mission to secure the site were “not realistic” amid fears a deployment risked being dragged into the conflict in east Ukraine.
“Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is according to our conclusion not realistic,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague.
“We concluded … there’s a real risk of such an international military mission becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine.”
Colvin confirmed that the Australian police would be unarmed.
“Quite frankly, I think taking firearms into this situation really only exacerbates it and puts us at more risk so we’re satisfied that not taking arms is the best way to reduce the risk for us at the moment,” he said.