Press statement by Pieter Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the repatriation mission

This morning a team of 38 Dutch and 12 Australian experts headed out to the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine for the 2nd time to investigate the area for the 1st time and search for remains and personal belongings. Unfortunately, they were unable to access the site because of gunfire near the town of Shaktarsk. In consultation with OSCE the team decided to return to Donetsk.

The experts and I are deeply disappointed that we were unable to reach the crash site again. Our colleagues in Donetsk are highly driven and motivated to get to work at the site. They left the Netherlands with great haste for this mission. It is frustrating to have to wait to do the job they came to do. Their motivation comes from the deep conviction that the relatives are entitled to have their loved ones and their personal effects returned to them. At the same time, we have to guarantee the safety of our people.

On a positive note, the OSCE is currently attempting to facilitate access to the site by consulting with the parties in conflict. It was also good that the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, and his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, were in Kyiv today doing everything they can at diplomatic level to make this mission a success.

We are going to try to access the crash site tomorrow if the security situation permits. We will make an assessment in the morning.

In the meantime, we are continuing our efforts on other fronts. We are working with Australia to fly in people and equipment to ensure the operation proceeds as smoothly as possible. An operational centre is being set up in Donetsk. In addition, search plans are being drafted and the necessary preparations made. To prepare properly, an initial investigation of the site is necessary.

Tomorrow the search for victims will be our top priority. If the experts find remains, they will be recovered immediately. We will be using a refrigerated train wagon near Torez. If the train is inaccessible for whatever reason, we will arrange other transport. We will not leave any remains behind. In addition if we will try to reach the wagon in Torez intended for personal belongings, so that we can get it moving as soon as possible.

The members of the joint mission are working very hard to achieve our goal: the repatriation of the victims and their personal belongings. It is not an easy task, but we will do everything in our power to complete it.