Sydney - Australian troops plan to join a police contingent in helping secure the Flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday, while stressing the mission would be humanitarian in nature.
Abbott has been highly critical of the response on the ground to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was carrying 298 people when it was apparently shot down in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
Ninety Australian Federal Police have already been deployed to Europe for a planned international mission to help secure the wreckage and retrieve bodies.
A further 100 will leave on Friday to participate in the operation and “do the right thing by the grieving families”, Abbott said, adding that Canberra was close to finalising an agreement with Ukraine for deployment of the Australian officers.
“Many of the (police) deployed won't be armed, some of them could be armed,” Abbott told reporters.
“And, yes, there will be some ADF (Australian Defence Force personnel) as part of this deployment, should it go ahead,” he added, without putting a figure on how many.
Abbott's office later confirmed the defence personnel were troops.
The majority of those on MH17 were Dutch, but 28 Australians and nine permanent residents were also on the plane.
“This is a humanitarian mission with a clear and simple objective, to bring them home,” Abbott said. “All we want to do is to claim our dead and to bring them home.”
He added that given human remains were still be recovered, it was “more important than ever that the site be properly secured”.
“I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks.”
The prime minister said he had spoken twice to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the incident since it happened last week.
“President Putin has been full of sympathy, as you would expect from another human being, for what's happened to 37 families in Australia,” Abbott said.
“And he certainly has been publicly and privately supportive of securing the site so that the full impartial investigation... can be completed and all of the bodies can be brought home.” - AFP