THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The Netherlands is sending 40 unarmed military police to eastern Ukraine as part of a ramped-up effort to find the last victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still at the wreckage site, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced late Thursday.
He also is sending forensic investigators to the site to try to piece together exactly what happened when the plane was shot down a week ago, killing all 298 people on board.
U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was probably shot down by a missile from territory held by pro-Russian rebels, likely by accident.
Rutte said the military police will help the investigators.
"They are really looking like the forensic experts," he said. "They will be extra hands and eyes to look for remaining remains and personal belongings."
His comments Thursday came hours after two military planes carrying 74 coffins landed at a military base in the Netherlands. A day earlier, the two military transport planes — one Dutch and one Australian — brought back the first 40 coffins and more flights were planned for Friday.
Thousands of people have turned out to watch the convoys of hearses drive from the Eindhoven Air Base to a military barracks in the central city of Hilversum, where the remains will be identified by an international team of experts.
The Netherlands has been given the lead in the investigation into what exactly happened to Flight 17 and is taking charge of efforts to identify the dead. This nation of 17 million was the hardest hit, with 194 of its citizens on board the plane.
Rutte said he would also be sending more forensic experts to the scene in the coming days to speed up the investigation that was hampered in its early stages because it was considered too dangerous to work there.
He acknowledged that the region of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists remains a risky place to work.
"For tomorrow, we expect our people to be able to conduct the work necessary," he said. "But we will constantly reassess the situation."
He added, "we are looking into ways to make the crash site safer."
That could include an international police mission.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop travelled Thursday to Kyiv with her Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans to seek an agreement with the Ukraine government that will allow international police to secure the crash site, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
"We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority," Abbott told reporters.
Australia has sent 50 police to London in anticipation of deploying them to Ukraine, Abbot said.
Rutte said he would not rest until he has brought the perpetrators to justice.
"I'm extremely motivated to find out what happened, who did this," he said, "And as soon as we know, I will do everything in my power — even if it is the last thing I do in this job — to make sure we bring them to justice."
© Coast Reporter