Malaysia says pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have agreed to allow international police access to the MH17 crash site. This came as Ukrainian troops made advances on rebel strongholds in the east of the country.
Malaysia said on Sunday that pro-Russian separatists who control the site in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed on July 17 have agreed to allow international police personnel access to the scene.
The Netherlands is making plans for an international deployment involving Dutch, Australian and Malaysian investigators whose aim it would be to secure the crash site and recover victims' remains and aircraft wreckage.
Rebels would allow police to enter the area "to provide protection for international crash investigators," the office of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Raza said in a statement.
Any deployment of international police to the site will, however, likely need the approval of the Ukrainian parliament, which is not due to discuss the issue until Thursday.
Malaysia would "work closely together" with the Netherlands and Australia to deploy police to the site, the statement said, adding that 68 Malaysian police personnel would leave Kuala Lumpur for the crash site on Wednesday.
Forty-three of the crash victims were Malaysian citizens.
Australia also confirmed on Sunday that it was planning to send a team of investigators to join the Dutch-led mission.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking from Amsterdam, told broadcaster Channel Ten, that some of the team would be armed to protect the investigators, but did not say how many.
Twenty-eight of the 298 people killed in the crash were Australian nationals, and a further nine were permanent residents of Australia. The majority of the victims were Dutch.
A Dutch-Australian team of forensic experts headed to the crash site on Sunday has meanwhile been forced to abandon the trip owing to ongoing fighting.
"There is fighting going on. We can't take the risk. The security situation on the way to the site and on the site itself is unacceptable for our unarmed observer mission," said Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's special mission in Ukraine.
He added that the team would try to visit the site again on Monday morning.
The security situation at the site has so far prevented any full-fledged investigation of the crash site.
Bodies still at site
International observers say there are still body remains of victims at the site, after the last of altogether 227 coffins were transported by air to the Netherlands for identification on Saturday.
The exact number of people held in the coffins still needs to be determined by forensic experts, officials say.
The Dutch government says forensic experts have identified the first victim, a Dutch national.
The plans for an international deployment come as Ukrainian officials say they have advanced to the outskirts of a key town just north of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
National security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said government forces were outside Horlivka, the recapture of which would open the way for troops to march on Donetsk, the capital of the Donbas region, much of which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
tj/pfd (AFP, AP)