CANBERRA , Australia, July 24 (UPI) -- Fifty police officers from Australia have been sent to the eastern Ukraine crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Thursday.
The six-mile-long debris field -- in territory held by Ukrainian separatists accused of shooting down the plane on July 17 -- has been the site of chaos, slow investigation, and alleged tampered evidence. Although the bodies of 40 victims of the crash have been returned to the Netherlands, where the flight originated, and the plane's black boxes are in British hands for evaluation, Abbott noted the crash scene is still under control of the separatists.
"It is vital that the search and the investigation not be contaminated by people who have a vested interest in the outcome," Abbott said Thursday in Canberra, Australia.
Abbott added he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko before sending the police officers, who will travel to London and presumably join an international force to secure the site for investigation.
"Nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who most likely brought the plane down in the first place. There has still not been anything like a thorough professional search of the area where the plane came down," Abbott said, noting that unlike Malaysia when it sought possession of the black boxes, Australia would not negotiate with the separatists.
"We recognize the authority of the Ukraine government over the Ukrainian territory," Abbott said.
Of the 298 people who died aboard the plane, 28 were Australian citizens and nine were permanent Australian residents.