Update Prime Minister Rutte on the latest air disaster developments
Rutte: 'Over the past few days, the security situation in eastern Ukraine – including the MH17 crash site – has been getting progressively worse. Tensions are on the rise. As a result, experts are unable to do their work in much of the area. And it is our firm belief that this state of affairs is unlikely to change in the near future. In this light it is currently not advisable to continue the repatriation mission. Obviously, this decision was made in consultation with Australia, Malaysia and the OSCE. As we speak, the families are being informed.'
'We would have greatly preferred to stay and carry out our work with all due care. But the situation on the ground simply does not allow it. We did what we could in the present circumstances.'
'As I'm sure everyone can agree, we do not want to expose our people to unnecessary risks.'
'We are working in a highly complex situation, in an instable environment. We had good days, when we were able to search with more than 100 people. But these were followed by days when we had to scale back our efforts, or indeed suspend work entirely. The main areas where victims were most likely to be located have now been searched. Some human remains have been found, as have various personal belongings like suitcases, cameras and passports. Tomorrow, a flight will leave Kharkiv for the Netherlands, carrying a large amount of recovered luggage, some of which had been stored in a train car.'
'We recently learned from a Ukrainian medical officer, who coordinated recovery efforts in the first few days after the crash, that an intensive search was carried out during that time, with the help of 800 volunteers. Many bodies were recovered then, all of which are now back in NL. The fact that our teams found few remains over the past few days would seem to confirm that more work was done in the immediate wake of the disaster than we previously thought.'
'A small team will stay behind in the region. This will also give the local population a chance to turn in any remains or personal property they might have found. In this regard it's important to remember that DNA can still be collected and tested for a long time after an incident like this has occurred. Once the situation stabilises, we hope to finish our work. It is our aim to return to the crash site as soon as we have good reason to believe we’ll be able to work in stable conditions for an extended period.'
'In 2 or 3 weeks we hope to be able to reveal how many bodies have been recovered in total. Seven hundred DNA samples have been taken and are currently being analysed. Once that process is complete, we will know how many victims have been brought back to Hilversum. Please note that this doesn't mean the victims will have been identified. As I've said before, that process could take a lot longer. You will receive a weekly update of the situation on Fridays.'
'The fact that we are now leaving the crash site doesn't mean we have ceased investigating the cause of the disaster.'
'In closing, I would like to express my deep respect for our people who have had to work in Ukraine in very difficult circumstances. They have done their job with great dedication and will continue to do so, albeit in other capacities. The same certainly applies to our partners from Australia, Malaysia and the OSCE. I also want to express my thanks to the local population, who have played such an important role in this operation and may continue to do so in the future. Let me conclude with a simple message, which is directed in particular to the victims' loved ones: today, we're putting one aspect of our work on hold, but we're not stopping.'