Australia and the Netherlands may be thousands of kilometres apart but they are united in grief over the downing of MH17, Mark Rutte declared after Tony Abbott signed a condolence book at the Dutch prime minister’s official residence in The Hague.
The Australian leader met Mr Rutte on Monday evening at the end of a 24-hour visit to the Netherlands in which he also visited military and police personnel working at Eindhoven airbase and Hilversum barracks.
“The images from Australia’s day of national mourning last Thursday left a deep impression,” Mr Rutte told reporters after Mr Abbott signed a condolence book to the 193 Dutch victims who died when the airliner was shot down over Ukraine in mid-July.
“The Netherlands and Australia feel the same sorrow, the same pain. Our countries may be thousands of kilometres apart but we are united in grief.”
Mr Rutte said while the investigation at the crash site in eastern Ukraine had been suspended due to safety concerns, experts hoped to return at a later date.
“We’re putting our work on hold, but we’re not stopping,” the Dutch PM said.
“Prime Minister Abbott and I are committed to resuming the work at the crash site as soon as the situation stabilises sufficiently.”
The Australian prime minister said that the murder of innocent passengers had needed a very strong response from Canberra.
“I am very pleased that in our friends here in the Netherlands we have found partners to match our strength,” he said.
“Partners who were not just partners in grief but partners in demanding justice in the face of this terrible atrocity.”
The Australian military and police forces that have been part of Operation Bring Them Home are now returning to Australia themselves.
Most will leave the Netherlands and Ukraine this week although a team of around 20 Australian Federal Police forensic experts will remain at Hilversum working to identify the MH17 victims.
The RAAF squadron leader who’s overseen the shuttle flights repatriating bodies from Ukraine to the Netherlands and shuttling supplies between the two countries says there are only a few more days of flights remaining.
“We’ve got a couple more days of heavy lifting to do and after that we’ll most likely be phased back to Australia over the coming week or two,” Squadron Leader Dean Bolton told reporters.
He spoke with Mr Abbott on Monday and revealed the PM had praised his team’s work.
“We’ve achieved the mission we were tasked to do,” the pilot said, adding the two RAAF C-17 transporters involved would likely soon head back to Brisbane and “if more tasking is required we’ll get back over here and do what needs to be done”.