THE HAGUE: Australia and The Netherlands on Monday vowed to bring justice to the families of victims of downed flight MH17, despite the search for body parts being halted because of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“We owe it to the dead, we owe it to the grieving families to bring them [the victims]home and to give them justice,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“We are not just partners in grief, but partners in demanding justice in the face of this terrible atrocity,” Abbott told Dutch Premier Mark Rutte at a press conference in The Hague.
The Australian leader is in The Netherlands for a one-day visit to thank the Dutch government for leading the investigation and to offer condolences to the victims’ families.
The Netherlands lost 193 citizens and Australia lost 38 citizens and residents when the Malaysia Airlines plane from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 on board.
Dutch, Australian and Malaysian forensic experts went to the crash site to retrieve body parts, but their search was suspended on Wednesday.
Investigators flew back to The Netherlands after it became too dangerous to stay in the area — the scene of rising clashes between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.
The West accuses pro-Moscow rebels of shooting down the plane, while Russia has blamed Ukraine.
“While the operation has been suspended… it certainly hasn’t been finished,” Abbott said.
Rutte added: “We’re putting our work on hold, but we’re not stopping. Prime Minister Abbott and I are committed to resuming the work at the crash site as soon as the situation stabilizes sufficiently.”
More than 220 coffins filled with remains have been taken to The Netherlands where the painstaking process of identifying the victims has begun.
By Saturday, some 65 victims of the crash had been identified, the Dutch government said.
“The reception of the bodies . . . was a moment when people who have not been treated properly in life at least were treated properly in death,” said Abbott.
“It reflected so well on the Dutch people,” he said.