Rutte: 'We want to get to the bottom of this tragedy'

At 16:15 on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans issued a statement on the air disaster in Ukraine involving flight MH17. According to the prime minister, the government's priority is to 'achieve clarity by means of an independent investigation'. The foreign minister announced that he would be travelling to Ukraine this evening.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte:

Ladies and gentlemen,

The dramatic events that took place yesterday in Ukraine are now, a day later, assuming an increasingly tragic scale. Yesterday I spoke of 154 Dutch nationals who were known to have died. That number has now risen to at least 189. Today, we are starting to hear the stories of individual travellers: young people, entire families and a large group of scientists who boarded the flight yesterday with no inkling of the terrible fate that was in store for them. And more and more of my fellow countrymen are being shocked to learn, from friends or acquaintances, of the deaths of people they knew. That shows, once again, how closely we are all connected in this small country of ours.

The Netherlands was shocked by this tragic event, and our thoughts go out to the families and loved ones of the victims. Summer festivities are being toned down, and a constant stream of messages of sympathy are being posted on social media.

It would appear that flight MH17 was shot down, but the exact nature of the disaster has not yet been established. The government's main priority, therefore, is to achieve clarity by means of an independent investigation. A team of investigators from the Dutch Safety Board will travel to the site of the crash. It is crucial that they are given unobstructed access to the disaster site and to the data contained in the flight recorders.

I have shared this appeal with many international colleagues. For instance with the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Ukrainian president yesterday, and, today, with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and President Obama. I also communicated it in a phone call to President Putin just now. He, too, assured me that Russia is pressing for a full, international, independent investigation.

Let me make one thing clear. We want to get to the bottom of this tragedy. And if it becomes clear that the aircraft was attacked, I will personally make every effort to ensure that the perpetrators are found and punished. We will not rest until this is done. We owe that to the innocent victims and their next of kin.

A book of condolence has been opened here at the Ministry, and before doing anything else, I intend to sign it.