Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop is heading to New York tonight to lead the Abbott government’s push for a UN Security Council resolution to ensure an independent, international investigation in to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Australia wants a binding resolution from the UN Security Council to force all countries to comply with the investigation, placing pressure on both Russia and China, permanent members of the council with veto rights, as global condemnation grows.
The matter will be debated next week, but Ms Bishop said that in the meantime, it should not delays preparations for the investigation.
She said she had the full support of Ukraine, as well as indications from Russia that it will support the resolution, although the specific wording has yet to be finalised. Australia is a temporary, two-year member of the council until the end of 2014.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s anger and frustration with Russia and the Russian-backed rebels who control the area where the plane came down was obvious during a media briefing at lunchtime today.
“We have to prepare ourselves for difficult weeks ahead,” he said.
Investigators who attempted to visit the site overnight where hampered by the Russian separatists who control the region and despite efforts to recover and identify remains, around 100 bodies are still missing, with debris scattered across an area up to 16km wide.
Australia has offered expertise and resources to assist the investigation. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sent six officers to Kiev, the Ukraine capital, with more are on the way, including Australian Federal Police investigators.
The government’s first priority is to ensure the site is secured for the investigation and so bodies can be identified and repatriated, but Mr Abbott said the return of remains “is likely to be weeks, rather than days away”.
“For all we know… this site is controlled by Russian-backed rebels, right now for all we know, bodies remain strewn over the fields of the Eastern Ukraine and armed rebels are trampling the site,” Mr Abbott said, adding that he presumed the gunfire that drove off the monitoring mission came from Russian-backed rebels, which highlighted “the difficulty and the danger of this situation”.
The Prime Minister said the idea that Russia can “wash its hands” of the incident “doesn’t stand scrutiny”.
“This aircraft was shot down in territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels, by Russian-backed rebels, most likely using equipment supplied by Russia,” he said
“This is a problem, a very serious problem. Australia takes a very dim view of countries that facilitate the killing of Australians.”
Russia’s foreign minister is on holidays and Julie Bishop has been unable to make contact with him, however the Russian trade minister is in Sydney on an official visit and Mr Abbott is meeting with him later today to “convey his concerns”.
“Let us hope that Russia plays its part in the international community [and] does everything it can to assist a full and fearless investigation,” Mr Abbott said.
“This is a matter of utmost gravity for Australia and the world.”
The Prime Minister said Australia’s “reasonable minimal expectations” are for an impartial, independent investigation.
“I want to stress that Australia will do whatever we humanly can to ensure that this matter is absolutely thoroughly investigated to find out what we can and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
“It is absolutely critical that we do have a secure site and this investigation can go ahead unmolested by anyone,” Mr Abbott said.
He said it’s “the only way we will get justice for the dead and closure for the living” warning against delays or attempts to “sanitise” the crash area would have repercussions.
“Anyone who tries to obstruct this is no friend of justice, is no friend of peace,” he said.
Meanwhile, growing public anger against Russia has led to calls for president Vladimir Putin to be banned from November’s G20 meeting in Brisbane.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said earlier on Saturday that if Russia doesn’t assist with the investigation, Putin’s invitation should be revoked.
“If the Russian Federation doesn’t co-operate and help us get to the heart of what has really happened in this senseless act of murder… I don’t believe Australians would want him here,” he said.
Later on, Mr Abbott was diplomatic, but clear, saying “we want to ensure that visitors to this country have goodwill to this country”.
The Foreign Minister said she’d spoken to both Qantas and Virgin who’ve offered support for family members of those killed who want to travel to Europe and that every effort would be made to retrieve the bodies of the Australian victims.
As details of the 28 Australians killed continue to emerge, Ms Bishop said that some families had asked that their names not be released and “until the Australian families give us their consent we will not release those names”.
While in the USA, the foreign minister will also meet with security and intelligence experts.
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