More Australian officials will head to Ukraine to assist at the MH17 crash site, with permission for armed personnel soon to be approved.
Australia has increased its number of officials on the way to the crash site of MH17 as an international recovery effort works urgently to find and recover more bodies from the eastern Ukraine countryside.
A “very big team” of 230, comprising 190 federal police and defence personnel, including medical specialists, are either in Ukraine or on the way, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Saturday.
Permission from Ukraine’s parliament for armed Australian personnel to enter the site should be secured next week.
It was not unusual for armed representatives to be involved, Mr Abbott said.
“When you’ve got a major humanitarian effort as we have, it’s normal and natural to have (Australian Defence Force) assistance.”
The presence of armed personnel should not compound the MH17 tragedy but the recovery and investigation effort needed to move swiftly and those involved should not be in danger, Mr Abbott said.
“We do want to get this done as quickly as we humanly can and that’s why we’re exploring all options.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop signed an in-principle deal with her Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, on Friday, allowing access for armed Australians, and the agreement is set to be ratified by Ukraine’s parliament next week.
On Friday, Australian officials accessed the crash site where more human remains have been found.
“That is our mission: to secure the remains, to assist the investigation and to obtain justice for the victims and their loved ones,” Mr Abbott said
The last planeload of remains recovered so far is due to touch down late on Saturday in the Netherlands, where a large forensics team is working to identify victims.
All 298 people, including up to 39 Australians, on board the Boeing 777 were killed when the passenger jet was shot down.
In Australia and abroad a dedicated team is working around the clock on the MH17 disaster, Mr Abbott said.
On Saturday in Canberra, the St Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox church held a public memorial service for the victims of MH17, which was attended by foreign dignitaries including the Netherlands ambassador to Australia, Annemieke Ruigrok.
“In their unimaginable grief, people who lost loved ones on MH17 were hurt even more by some of the images of the crash site,” Ms Ruigrok told the overflowing church.
“I hope and pray that ultimately the images of people mourning at the site will be the images that last.”