Dutch investigators have failed for a third consecutive day to enter the MH17 crash site amid a risky and deteriorating security situation in the eastern Ukraine.
The Australian Federal Police and their Dutch colleagues in the separatist-held city of Donetsk – having been twice repelled by heavy fighting on the road to the site – deemed it too risky to try again yesterday without firm commitments from warring Ukrainians and separatists to guarantee their safe passage to the site.
The investigative teams are now caught in the middle of a war that is surrounding them in the city of Donetsk, west of the crash site and now known as the capital of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
There are still human remains in the crash zone, personal belongings and important ballistic forensic information that could give a definitive answer on how the Malaysia Airlines jet was brought down on the afternoon of July 17.
Despite attempts by monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to negotiate access to the crash site from the city, which is encircled by Ukrainian troops, the message to let them pass through to the search zone has not been heeded.
There is clear frustration on behalf of the Australians and Dutch as the Ukrainians and rebels intensify the fight, with foreign efforts to secure the area not seen as a priority.
Michael Bociurkiw, from the OSCE in Donetsk, said the warring factions had from the start been clearly informed of what the investigative team was trying to achieve and been given precise intended route movements, who was in the cars and number-plates of vehicles.
“We’ve been dealing with the separatists for three months and since the crash happened we’ve had access every day until this (fighting happened),” Mr Bociurkiw said.
“There’s no excuse for anyone not to know the stakes in this. They are huge. One third of the passengers’ bodies are still out there. There’s a lot of debris out there.”
The outskirts of Donetsk are guarded by tense pro-Russian rebel troops, who are protecting all points to the city in hastily constructed bunkers of earth and logs.
The crash site is only 60 or 70km from the Russian border, from where Ukraine has accused the rebels of sourcing their weapons. The rebels are pro-Russian but also seek to create their own state independent of the Ukraine.
The separatists, who have been accused of shooting down the airliner killing all 298 people aboard, counterclaim that the Ukrainian government destroyed the jet to drag the world into supporting them in a war with Russia.
There are now some short bursts of fire in central Donetsk, appearing to come from near the capital buildings close to where the foreign teams are headquartered.