Press statement by Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the recovery mission
This evening the prime minister announced that the MH17 recovery mission cannot continue at the present time. This means that tomorrow our police personnel and experts will not be searching the area where flight MH17 crashed almost 3 weeks ago.
The security situation has worsened in recent days, tensions have risen and the crash site has become less and less accessible. The experts are not able to perform their task adequately.
Over the past few days the experts have continued working under difficult circumstances to search as large an area as possible. To date it has been a daily challenge to keep working without interruption. The experts wore protective vests for their own safety and regularly heard shooting in the vicinity of the search area.
We must therefore be realistic: as the security situation worsens further, police personnel and experts can no longer perform their work safely. The safety of our people is our top priority. This was highlighted today when small calibre guns were fired close by the search team. In response, the team moved to a secure location. On the advice of the OSCE the team then withdrew to Soledar, our base to the north of the crash site.
We have continually stressed that we must have 3 'green lights' before our people can safely do their work: the Ministry of Defence's security analysis, the OSCE's advice and the commander on the ground. These new developments mean it is no longer viable to get all 3 lights on green on a daily basis.
Despite the difficult conditions the search team has achieved a lot in the past few days. Today, too, more personal belongings were recovered. The team distributed leaflets in Rozsypne, calling on residents to hand in items they have recovered. We also asked them to share any information they might have with us.
Residents did come to hand in the personal belongings of victims, and statements were taken from some people. They provide an insight into how local residents and the emergency services recovered human remains shortly after the crash. It appears that they did so with great care and sensitivity. We are grateful for their help and the respect they showed. Today, again, the search team saw how deeply affected and committed many local residents remain.
Early on, the search team found significant quantities human remains mainly in the vicinity of the poultry farm. These were transported immediately to the Netherlands, where the process of identification will now continue. In addition, there are a total of 10 one-cubic-meter packages filled with personal belongings. These include items of great significance to the victims' loved ones, such as photo albums, cameras, jewelry, diaries, passports and cuddly toys.
Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, the mission has succeeded in getting results in difficult conditions and in a short period of time. Our team is disappointed that they can't complete their important task. At the same time, we are pleased that we have been able to recover human remains and personal belongings. We hope that this can offer some comfort to the victims' loved ones. Some of our people will remain behind in Charkov and in the crash site area. As the prime minister said in his statement: we aim to return to the crash site as soon as we have the opportunity to work there for a longer period under stable conditions.