JULIE BISHOP Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans and I, and our respective teams, met with the representatives of OSCE. They have been our advisors in terms of the on-the-ground situation and they are our negotiators with the separatists when it comes to getting access to the site. It was a very positive meeting and we believed at the end of that meeting that there would be an opportunity for our humanitarian mission to reach the site today.
A short while ago we were informed that the conditions were such that our convoy could leave Donetsk and head towards the crash site, and so our understanding is that the convoy is underway. We are here for one purpose and that is to ensure that the site is secured to enable us each day to scour it for remains of those aboard MH17 and to commence the crash site investigation. And so at this stage it seems that today will be spent accessing the site, determining how we will be able to get our convoy to the site each day, setting up a humanitarian corridor so that we can get there as quickly as possible. We don’t want to be here for a moment more than we have to be. We want to get onto the site, do our work and leave.
I have another meeting very shortly, so I can only take a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST [inaudible] … can you tell us who do you understand is in control of the wreckage area at this point because there are conflicting reports that the Ukrainian military is in control [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP We understand that there are now a number of checkpoints along the way. Some of them are controlled by Ukrainian military and some of them are controlled by separatists but our understanding is that the crash site is still in separatist held territory.
JOURNALIST So yesterday we saw actions by the Ukrainian army to secure the crash site… [inaudible] do you see it that way as well? Has it been helpful?
JULIE BISHOP Foreign Minister Timmermans and I are about to meet with the Ukrainian Government leadership - President Poroshenko and Acting Prime Minister Hroysman. We are also meeting with representatives from the National Security and Defence Council and we will be seeking assurances that any military action does not compromise our humanitarian mission and also that they abide by the terms of the UN Security Council resolution that sought a ceasefire. We understand that yesterday there was fighting in the exclusion zone, so we need a reassurance that the exclusion zone will remain and that there will be a ceasefire so that we can carry out our work.
JOURNALIST How do you perceive and how do you explain this contradiction that originally there was supposed to be that ceasefire in the 40 kilometres around the crash site, and yesterday there was heavy fighting also with Ukrainian army?
JULIE BISHOP We received very positive assurances from President Poroshenko last week that an exclusion zone would be put in place and I have no doubt that that is his intention but what happens on the site during military conflict is not always what the political leaders would wish. So we are hopeful that the UN Security Council resolution requirement of a ceasefire will be adhered to by both sides.
JOURNALIST Hi, Henry Ridgewell from Voice of America. Have you had any contact with the Russian Government [inaudible] and do you… What’s the Australian government’s view of what they can do to help secure the site?
JULIE BISHOP The Australian government has been in contact with representatives of the Russian government at ambassador level in Canberra and in New York and also here, and my Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been in contact with President Putin on a number of occasions and we are hopeful that the Russians will use their influence over the separatists to ensure that we can have unimpeded access to the site. And so today is our first opportunity to test that. And we are hopeful that we will be able to get to the site and to carry out the work and also put in place the protocols, if you like, for what we will be doing day-by-day because we want to conclude this mission as soon as possible; do it openly and thoroughly, transparently but to do it professionally and as quickly as possible.
[Doorstop – further questions]
JULIE BISHOP Well it has impeded our mission by one day, but hopefully it has given us an opportunity to reassess the situation, look at the operational risks and now, working with both the separatists and the Ukrainian Government, we hope to have established a means by which we can get to the site every day.
JOURNALIST And you don’t see it as an infringement to promises that have been made to you that there would be a ceasefire?
JULIE BISHOP My only interest is ensuring that we can retrieve the remains of the Australians who were killed on this flight, and I know that’s Foreign Minister Timmermans's objective as well. So we’re not apportioning blame we just want to get on to the site, do our job and get out of there as quickly as possible. We know this is risky; we know we’re in a war zone. This was a commercial airline, shot down in a war zone, so we are being very careful with our mission but, nevertheless, we have an objective and we won’t be deterred from it.
JOURNALIST One last question… How important is the vote in parliament, how does it add to the mission you already have?
JULIE BISHOP Well, the agreement that the Australian Government signed with the Ukrainian Government, and the Dutch Government is to sign with the Ukrainian Government, sets out the terms of our engagement here – it sets out the terms of the invitation and the consent. It needs ratification should arms be brought in, but in any event we need it because it sets out the terms of our presence here in Ukraine.
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