Netherlands sends team of investigators to crash site

PM Rutte vows perpetrators will be brought to justice as number of Dutch deaths rises to 189

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte signs a condolence register at the ministry of safety and justice in The Hague for relatives and friends of the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte signs a condolence register at the ministry of safety and justice in The Hague for relatives and friends of the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

 

As the Netherlands observed a national day of mourning yesterday, during which the number of Dutch confirmed to have died on flight MH17 rose to 189, prime minister Mark Rutte put those responsible on notice that the country would not rest “until they are brought to justice”.

With flags flying at half-mast on official buildings and the nation still in deep shock, Mr Rutte acknowledged for the first time that it appeared the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet had been brought down by a missile, though he remained unwilling to speculate on who might have fired it.

After speaking to both the US president Barack Obama and Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Mr Rutte said a team of Dutch forensic investigators was on its way to Ukraine. He said he had demanded they be given “a safe corridor” to reach the crash site near the Russian border.

After Mr Obama’s conversation with Mr Rutte, a White House spokesperson said the US was willing to give “immediate assistance” to those calling for “a prompt, full, credible and unimpeded international investigation”.

During their conversation Mr Rutte said Mr Putin had expressed his condolences for the Dutch lives lost in the tragedy, and assured him that he too wanted to see a “full, independent and international inquiry” as soon as possible.

However, Mr Rutte warned that an independent probe would be just “an initial step” – a message apparently echoed last night by the UN Security Council, which said in a statement that any investigation would have to be followed by “appropriate accountability”.

‘Terrorist act’

Petro Poroshenko

He has been personally urging other European leaders, including Angela Merkel and David Cameron, to get their experts involved in as broadly based a crash investigation as possible.

Mr Rutte, who cut short a holiday in southern Germany on news of the loss of the jet, told reporters: “The whole of the Netherlands is in deep mourning.

“Thursday began as a beautiful summer day and ended in the blackest possible way.”

Malaysia Airlines says it has been making arrangements to fly relatives of the dead to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where floral tributes have been placed outside the Dutch embassy.

It is understood to be offering financial support to the families to help as many as wish to to make the trip.

Flowers in tribute

The book of condolences was also signed by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, who postponed the twice-yearly photoshoot with their three daughters, princesses Amalia, Alexia and Ariane, scheduled for yesterday.

In a brief statement, the king said, “Just like the rest of the Netherlands, my wife and I follow the news from minute to minute and hope to have more clarity soon.”

It is understood the remains of the Dutch people who died will be repatriated “as soon as possible”, although given the difficulty of retrieving the bodies, there is no schedule yet.