Updated: 07/26/2014 18:18 | By Agence France-Presse

Dutch, Australians ready MH17 forces amid Ukraine fighting

Dutch and Australian forces were being readied on Saturday for deployment to secure the rebel-held crash site of Malaysian flight MH17 in east Ukraine where remains of victims still lie more than a week after the disaster.


Dutch, Australians ready MH17 forces amid Ukraine fighting

Pro-Russian militants stand guard at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove, east Ukraine, on July 25, 2014 - by Bulent Kilic

A truce has been called in the area surrounding the site by both Kiev and pro-Russian separatists, but fierce combat was ongoing just 60 kilometres (36 miles) away, with loud explosions heard at regular intervals in a suburb of Donetsk.

Nine people were also reported killed and 29 wounded in the last 24 hours in another rebel holdout, Lugansk.

As the military pressed on with its offensive to wrest back control of the industrial east, politicians in Kiev were battling to limit the fallout of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's abrupt resignation on Thursday.

Lawmakers are to meet in a special session next week to discuss the prime minister's future. President Petro Poroshenko has insisted on Yatsenyuk's cooperation until new elections are held.

In a sign that the political upheaval in the cash-strapped country is ringing alarm bells, IMF chief Christine Lagarde reminded Poroshenko of the reforms Kiev had pledged to undertake in exchange for its $17-billion two-year financial lifeline.

The Fund had previously forecasted that Ukraine's economy would contract by 6.5 percent this year due to the insurgency engulfing the country's east.

The other protagonist in the Ukraine conflict -- Russia -- is also hurting economically and widely expected to sink into recession.

Russia, accused by the West of abetting the insurgency by arming the rebels who allegedly shot down MH17, moved to raise its benchmark rate on Friday in what appeared an attempt to shield the economy from tightening Western sanctions.

The European Union has moved to punish Russia by placing heads of intelligence services on an extended sanctions list.

The 28-member EU is also prepared from next week to impose sector wide sanctions including embargoes on arms sales and access to financial markets, all of which could seriously hurt Russia.

- 'Claim our dead' -

Some 227 bodies out of a total of 298 people killed in the crash have been handed over to Dutch authorities, but many more remains lie under the sweltering heat on the vast crash site.

Some 40 plain-clothes military police from the Netherlands, which is leading the investigation after 193 of its citizens were killed in the downed plane, have arrived in Ukraine and are expected to begin their work escorting forensic experts to the MH17 crash site.

The Netherlands also said troops had been consigned to barracks and had leave cancelled ahead of the possible mission to secure the site.  

Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the disaster, meanwhile is sending 190 police, along with a small number of its defence forces to join the mission.

"Plainly there are unrecovered body remains in the area. And it's the presence of unrecovered remains that makes it more important than ever that an international team be dispatched to the site," said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

At the same time, he stressed that this is "a humanitarian mission".

"Others can get involved if they wish in the politics of eastern Europe, our sole concern is to claim our dead and to bring them home," he said.

It remains unclear if the security forces would gain access, as monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said rebels controlling the area were only ready to accept between 25 to 35 members of foreign delegations.

The perilous nature of the mission was underlined by the fierce combat just outside the truce area of the crash side.

On Saturday, loud blasts rocked the suburb of Donetsk with experts saying that the noise resembled those of unguided Grad rockets.

Human Rights Watch had this week urged Kiev to stop using such weapons -- rockets which are fired in salvos and sprayed across a wide area -- warning that firing Grads could amount to war crimes.

HRW's claims came after the Red Cross declared that Ukraine is in a civil war -- an official distinction that would allow warring parties to be prosecuted for war crimes.

Ukraine's bloody insurgency has forced 230,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said, including 130,000 who have sought refuge in Russia.

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