CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Unarmed Australian police will be sent to the site in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine where the Malaysian airliner came down as part of a Dutch-led police force to secure the area and help recover victims’ remains, Australia’s prime minister said Sunday.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that by using unarmed police, Ukraine’s Parliament will not need to ratify the deployment as it would if the security force were to be armed.
“This is a risky mission. There’s no doubt about that,” Abbott told reporters. “But all the professional advice that I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed, as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”
But hours later, plans to send Australian police in on Monday were postponed due to reports of fighting in the area of the crash site.
Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the area from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It was not immediately clear where precisely clashes had broken out.
Abbott’s spokeswoman Jane McMillan confirmed that the Australian police deployment had been postponed due to fighting. She did not say when it was expected to proceed.
Earlier, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus said that 11 Australian police would initially be sent Monday into the debris field, which covers 50 square kilometers (20 square miles).
Negus said the Dutch police also would be unarmed. He did not say how many Dutch police would be sent.
The pro-Russia separatists have been blamed for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with a surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing all 298 people aboard, including 37 Australians.
Negus said assessments would soon be made on how many police are needed to secure the crash site. There currently are 170 Australian Federal Police personnel in Ukraine waiting to be deployed, he said.
The first priority of the international police force is to enable searchers to recover human remains, Abbott said. But searchers will also conduct a forensic examination of the area in the hope that those responsible for shooting down the Boeing 777 can be brought to justice.
Abbott said he expected police would only spend two or three weeks at the crash site.
“This is a volatile situation,” he said. “This is contested ground and we don’t want to be there any longer than is absolutely necessary.”
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