Ukraine talks resume as experts return to MH17 crash site

Kiev parliament rejects PM’s resignation and boosts military spending

Head of Australian Federal Police mission Commander Brian McDonald (L), Alexander Hug (C), deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine and Dutch police officer Kuijs arrive back from the site where the downed Malaysian airliner MH17 crashed.

Head of Australian Federal Police mission Commander Brian McDonald (L), Alexander Hug (C), deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine and Dutch police officer Kuijs arrive back from the site where the downed Malaysian airliner MH17 crashed.

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 01:00

Four-way talks on Ukraine’s conflict have resumed, after international investigators returned to the crash site of Flight MH17 and the nation’s parliament moved to boost military spending, avert a possible default and maintain access to foreign funding.

Representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the 57-state Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) gathered in the Belarussian capital Minsk last night, with envoys for pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine.

“Together with you we will do everything we can for our Ukraine, so as to somehow reduce the escalation, the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” Belarus’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko told Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma, Kiev’s envoy to the talks.

The discussions focused on securing safe access for investigators to the area where a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came down on July 17th, killing all 298 people on board.

Ukraine said yesterday that it halted military operations against rebels there and despite gunfire and explosions still being audible nearby, experts from the OSCE, the Netherlands and Australia reached the site for the first time in a week.

Ceasefire zone

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko told Australian and Dutch leaders by telephone that experts would now be able to work at the scene every day, and he urged insurgents to respect a 20km ceasefire zone around the crash site. Kiev officials said last night that Ukrainian and Russian envoys in Minsk had agreed to try and keep open the route to the site used earlier by the experts. Ukraine’s parliament yesterday gave permission for armed Dutch and Australian police missions to access the wide area where wreckage is located.

“It means we have an insurance policy that, if necessary, Dutch and Australian personnel can bring arms into the country. But they are not taking arms onto the site, our convoy will not be armed, it is a police-led humanitarian mission,” Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said in Kiev.

Sniffer dogs

She explained that parliamentary approval meant foreign teams could now bring specialist equipment and sniffer dogs into Ukraine to work at the crash site, where she said “around 80 bodies” are believed to still be present.

Parliament also approved measures, including tax rises to boost military spending and help Ukraine pay its debts and meet the conditions of a $17 billion (€12.7 billion) international bailout.

“The laws the government is insisting on are unpopular and difficult, but very necessary,” said Mr Poroshenko.

“The parliament’s decisions are needed to enable the economy, the state as a whole, to function and for people to feel confident and protected.”

Deputies also overwhelmingly rejected premier Arseniy Yatseniuk’s offer to resign, which he made in fury at their earlier rejection of steps passed yesterday.

The large rebel-held eastern town of Luhansk, meanwhile, was left without electricity after fierce fighting.