Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Sunday said the Ukraine crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was “absolutely chaotic”, and he feared interference with the evidence would continue.
Abbott’s call joined a growing chorus of outrage from world leaders demanding Russia’s full cooperation with what is becoming a monumentally challenging probe into the shooting down of MH17, bound from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people from a dozen countries on board.
Twenty-eight Australian nationals were on the flight which is believed to have been shot down over Ukraine on Thursday, and Abbott said recovering the bodies was a priority.
“The difficulty is that site is chaotic, it’s absolutely chaotic,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The kinds of things that would normally be happening in an air crash site are not happening.”
Abbott said several attempts to reach the wreckage, which is strewn across a large area, were hampered by the conflict.
“This just makes it absolutely imperative, imperative, that Australia do everything we can to recover the bodies, to ensure that the site is secured, a proper investigation is done, and then justice is secured.”
Australia is pushing for a full and impartial investigation into the crash, but Abbott said a key difficulty was that there was “no-one in authority in charge on the ground”.
Abbott said Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had invited Australia to “fully participate” in the investigation, and to be part of the body recovery operation.
“My fear is that Russia will say the right thing, but that on the ground interference with the site, interference with investigators, interference with the dignified treatment of bodies will continue,” he said.
– ‘An affront to dignity’ –
The United States has condemned “unacceptable” security at the site.
“The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday.
“This is unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.”
The State Department has said monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were only allowed 75 minutes at the site on Friday, and less than three hours on Saturday.
Abbott, who Friday branded the disaster a “crime” and slammed Russia’s initial response as “deeply unsatisfactory”, refused to say whether he had tried to contact Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Russians, as everyone has seen over the last 48 hours, are trying to wash their hands of this,” Abbott said.
“But it is impossible for Russia to wash its hands of something which happened in what is effectively Russian-controlled territory, it seems at the hands of Russian-backed individuals, most likely with a Russian supplied or facilitated weapon.”
Abbott, who revealed two of his daughters had flown on the MH17 route recently on returning from Europe, said the tragedy touched the nation deeply given that 36 onboard called Australia home. Services were to be held Sunday for those who died.
“We can’t let our emotions cloud our judgment but nevertheless these are wrenching times and there would hardly be an Australian who hasn’t been emotionally touched by what we’ve seen, what we’ve felt over the last 48 hours or so,” Abbott said.
“You look at the faces of the dead and they’re your neighbours, they’re your friends, they could be your kids because let’s face it, we’re a people who like to travel.
“There are 36 people who call Australia home who have been snuffed out.”