The Netherlands has begun a major diplomatic offensive to send possibly hundreds of soldiers and police forensic experts to Ukraine to investigate the downing of Malaysia Airways flight MH17, the Volkskrant says on Thursday.
Ministers reportedly discussed the plan in a 2.5 hour meeting on Wednesday evening, at the end of the national day of mourning for the dead.
In total, 298 people died in the disaster, including 194 Dutch citizens. The Dutch death toll was raised on Thursday when officials revealed one victim was a Dutch dual national travelling on a German passport.
The police and soldiers would secure the area where the plane came down to ensure vital evidence is not removed from the crash site in the rebel-held area of Ukraine and that any remaining bodies can be taken away, the Volkskrant says.
The biggest dilemma facing ministers, the Volkskrant says, is that it wants to ensure the remaining victims are brought home while at the same time ensuring pro-Russian rebels do not attack the investigators.
The cabinet is trying to win guarantees from all parties involved but does not want to depend on third parties to protect the investigators, sources told the paper.
‘It is very likely this mission will take place in the not to distant future,’ one source said.
‘If it appears the researchers cannot work safely, then you want to have military protection as an option, so this is plan B,’ said another. ‘I expect a briefing statement in the short term.’
Foreign affairs minister Frans Timmermans has already briefed parliamentary party leaders on the potential risks of such a mission but is not ensured of total political support, the paper says.
On Thursday, Timmermans is travelling to Ukraine with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop. Australia lost 36 nationals when the Boeing 77 was downed a week ago.
‘We must secure the site of the crash,’ Bishop told Australian media. ‘We must ensure that the investigators and those who have the gruesome task of identifying body remains are able to do that in safety, unfettered, without any tampering from anyone.’
Asked to confirm if sending peacekeepers was an option, Bishop would only say ‘we are looking at the most effective way of securing that site’, the Australian Financial Review reported.
The Telegraaf points out that Dutch and Australian troops have worked together closely in Afghanistan for years.
Meanwhile, Dutch forensic experts in Kharkiv are preparing more bodies for transport back to the Netherlands. A further 74 are expected to arrive by plane on Thursday.
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