JOURNALIST How far we will push Russia to get back the bodies of our dead and to find out who exactly shot down MH17. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been instrumental in organising a coalition of the five countries who suffered the most in this tragedy including Holland and Britain. It is a coalition that wants to send police and some soldiers to the crime scene in a part of Ukraine actually held by Russian-backed rebels. Julie Bishop joins me now from Amsterdam. Foreign Minister, thank you so much for your time. When will Ukraine let our police and soldiers go to the crime scene?
JULIE BISHOP Andrew, our police can go to the crime scene when we negotiate access with the Russian backed separatists and we’re doing that through the OSCE, this organisation that is helping broker our access with the separatists. So it will take some time, and of course if we bring in arms then, for self-defence, then it has to be ratified by the Ukraine parliament. That has been the delay over this weekend. The Ukraine government has been very supportive of what we’re seeking to do. They have agreed to handover the leadership of the investigation to the Dutch, they have agreed to allow Australia to bring in police and logistical support including arms to ensure that we can safely access this site but there was a delay on Friday. We now have to wait until next week in order to get the ratification from the parliament and that is why the Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans and I are going back to Ukraine tomorrow to secure that agreement to ensure that we can get the parliament of Ukraine to ratify our deployment agreement.
JOURNALIST If Ukraine refuses to ratify that, will we still go in?
JULIE BISHOP We have every expectation that they will ratify it. We had an agreement with the President that we obtained last Thursday. I signed our deployment agreement with their foreign minister at about 2am on Friday morning. They wanted to put it into the parliament on Friday but then they had a crisis within their parliament. Their Prime Minister resigned and there were a lot of internal domestic issues that had to be addressed and then their parliament went into recess. They tell us that they will bring the parliament back for a special sitting next Thursday. We think that is too late, and so the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and I will be urging for the parliament to be recalled earlier this week, hopefully Tuesday.
JOURNALIST What guarantees have you had from Russia that our police, this force, most of whom will be unarmed and in a war zone, will be safe?
JULIE BISHOP Prime Minister Abbott has been speaking to President Putin, on a number of occasions, and on each occasion President Putin has noted the need for our people to get in there so that we can retrieve the remains of those still on the site and he’s acknowledged that. And unarmed police are obviously no threat to Russia or to anybody else but we are still trying to negotiate with the separatists who are Russian-backed and owe their allegiance to Russia, to bring in some sort of defence, some sort of protection for our people on the site. And as Prime Minister Abbott has repeated time and time again, this is a humanitarian mission. All we want to do is secure the site, so that we can inspect it thoroughly and bring back any remains that are on that site. And of course we want to allow the investigation to begin that will be led by the Dutch so that we can find the answers as to how this happened.
JOURNALIST How many people in this coalition force going there will be armed to protect our people?
JULIE BISHOP A number, I won’t go into the operational aspects of it. But the main focus is on having police investigators, those who are expert in body identification and those who are expert in investigations, Dutch and Australian at this stage. We expect a number of other countries who have been affected to also offer resources and personnel. Indeed I have a phone call with a number of other countries’ foreign ministers lined up for tomorrow. So we are getting offers from elsewhere, as you would imagine, other countries affected by this. But our focus is very much on getting onto the site, finding the remains, collecting personal belongings and bringing them out to the Netherlands.
Andrew, we’ve got to understand the level of complexity. This commercial aeroplane was shot down over a war zone, where the Ukraine military is in daily conflict with separatists who owe their allegiance to Russia and are wanting to de-stabilise the Ukraine government. We can’t inspect the site without the agreement of these separatists and unlike any other airline crash we have to take the evidence and bodies away from the country in which it occurred to another country, in this case the Netherlands. So it’s extraordinarily complex and it’s painstaking work but we are determined to see it through, and we are determined, of achieving our goals of bringing our loved ones home. That’s the way the Netherlands government feels about it, that’s the way that the Australian government feels about it and we are absolutely united in our resolve to bring our people home.
JOURNALIST The Prime Minister called the shooting down of MH17 a crime rather than a terrible accident. What exactly was the crime and who is the main suspect?
JULIE BISHOP I have had significant intelligence briefings in Washington, our own intelligence community is working very hard to determine the cause of this. The investigation should conclude who is responsible. Already we have a lot of evidence that has been brought together. But we did, through the United Nations Security Council resolution, agree that there will be an open, thorough, transparent, independent, impartial investigation. That’s why it is being led by the Dutch and all credit to the Ukrainian government for agreeing to transfer the leadership of the investigation to the Netherlands government. Ukraine has the responsibility under international aviation law to carry out the investigation but because of the pressure from Russia they have agreed to hand it over to the Dutch so there can be no question that this is an impartial investigation.
JOURNALIST Has Russia allowed or agreed to let the investigators interview key witnesses such as Strakhov, the rebel forces commander in chief and allegedly a Russian agent, where is he?
JULIE BISHOP These are all matters that the investigation will have to determine. Andrew, the point is we have got a unanimous UN Security Council resolution backing this investigation. All 15 countries signed up to that, plus it was co-sponsored by all the other countries that were affected by this crash. So we have international support for an independent investigation, that’s why we’re so determined to get access to the site so that it can begin. And it would be scandalous if any political leaders sought to use this tragedy for political gain.
JOURNALIST The weapon was obviously a missile launcher. Do you know where it is and have you asked the investigators to find it?
JULIE BISHOP We understand that this plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile inside Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, close to the border of Russia. The details as to where that loader has gone now, the missile loader has gone now, is a subject of very intense investigation and intelligence activity. There will be a time and a place for judgements to be made in relation to this matter but our focus now is to get our bodies home. And there is a huge Australian team working across Europe to ensure that happens. Yesterday I went to Kharkiv, the place where the rail carts have brought the bodies and there is a very detailed, grim, sobering process going on there as these body identification experts are taking the body bags from the train, processing them and then preparing them for transport by the Australian transport plane and the Dutch transport plane back to Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands. And the reassuring thing through this whole harrowing ordeal is that from the time those bodies and remains reach that place in Ukraine, they are now in the care of people who really will treat them with dignity and respect. And so we’ve got to focus on bringing all of the remains out of Ukraine.
JOURNALIST And just finally to Israel, the United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza. Should it?
JULIE BISHOP What we need to see in Gaza is a ceasefire and one was imposed today for a period of time, twelve hours, from 8am to 8pm. Both sides respected that humanitarian ceasefire, however, Hamas has now started firing rockets again. Secretary Kerry and a number of other countries are meeting in Paris to try to extend that ceasefire. It is a terrible situation there. The death toll is about a 1000 Palestinians, about 40 Israelis and what we need to be focused on at the moment is a ceasefire and not make judgements about who or who should not face war crimes. Let’s focus on the humanitarian side of this and get a permanent ceasefire in place.
JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you so much for your time, late at night in Amsterdam.
JULIE BISHOP It has been my pleasure, thank you Andrew.
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