UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Netherlands has informed the U.N. Security Council of the international investigation it is leading into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine — in response to a council request.
Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom said in a letter to the council obtained Monday by The Associated Press that the current focus of international efforts, with the participation of Australia and Malaysia, is on the recovery of remains of the victims.
There were 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 37 Australians on Flight 17 when it was shot down over rebel-held territory on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.
Oosterom said he was writing in response to the Security Council resolution adopted July 21 demanding international access to the crash site, an end to military activities around the area, and a "full, thorough and independent international investigation."
The letter, dated Aug. 1, says "at present, international deployed personnel are unarmed."
But he said an agreement with the Ukrainian government does allow international investigators to carry "light arms for personal protection should an assessment be made that the security situation warrants such a precaution."
Oosterom said following adoption of the council resolution, the governments of Ukraine and Netherlands signed a memorandum of understanding "formally delegating the investigation into the incident to the Netherlands."
The Dutch Safety Board is coordinating the probe assisted by experts from Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, Britain and the United States as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization and the European Aviation Safety Agency, he said. In addition, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland "have offered their help," he said.
Oosterom said the Netherlands signed a separate bilateral agreement with Ukraine on July 28 on the establishment of an "International Mission for Protection of Investigation" led by the Dutch to recover the remains of the victims and conduct the investigation called for by the Security Council. That agreement was ratified by the Ukrainian parliament on July 31, he said.
Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the head of the team of international investigators, said Sunday that more personal belongings of victims have been found, but no human remains.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current Security Council president, told reporters Monday that he did not expect the council to respond to the letter.
"The letter did not require a response and I have not been asked to prepare a response as president of the Security Council," he said. "I think it's just a letter of information."