By Mick Krever, CNN
As Australian and other investigators reach the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine for the first time in more than a week, that country’s foreign minister laid out the difficult task ahead.
For one, there could be as many as 80 bodies still at the crash site, Julie Bishop told CNN’s Jim Clancy, in for Christiane Amanpour.
“Our first priority is to locate bodies and remains, remembering this is two weeks since this plane was shot down,” she said. “We know how many body bags were transferred from Kharkiv to the Netherlands, but we don't know how many bodies or remains are still on the site.”
“We won't know until our investigative teams are on the site and combing the crash site for remains. And that's the grisly and sobering task that they must undertake from now on.”
“We need to be on the site for probably weeks.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been monitoring Ukraine’s conflict for months now, and is leading the MH17 investigative team, has tried for several days to access the crash site only to be turned back by pro-Russian separatists and fighting.
On Thursday, Bishop said, the team took an “alternative route” that got them to the crash site in a few hours.
“Our team had to negotiate checkpoints all along this route. We'll need to do that day by day. It's a very dangerous situation.”
Once the priority of recovering bodies is complete, she said, “there will be important parts of the airplane wreckage that we hope can be taken off the site and taken away from Ukraine for independent evaluation.”
The Ukrainian government on Thursday said it had ratified an agreement to allow Dutch and Australian investigators to access the crash site, and even travel with armed personnel if necessary.
Bishop said that while the agreement was necessary to allow access for equipment like GPS, cameras, and “sniffer dogs,” Australia does not believe it will need to use armed guards.
“We will not be taking arms onto the site because this is a police-led humanitarian mission. We are getting security from the Ukraine military, from the separatists, and this is being coordinated by OSCE.”
Indeed, she said, using only unarmed police to provide security for investigators was a condition set by pro-Russian separatists.
Australia has not negotiated directly with the separatists, she said; only via the OSCE.
Unlike the United States and European Union, Australia did not impose a new round of sector-wide sanctions against Russia this week.
Australia does not want to “be drawn into the geopolitical situation at present until we complete our humanitarian mission,” Bishop said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is “not entering into the … rights and wrongs of it at this point.”
“What he's trying to do is retrieve the bodies of the 38 Australian residents that were killed on that flight. We owe it to the families. And we won't rest until we've got their bodies home.”
“Then we can consider the consequences of the investigation and the results of the investigation once they're known.”
“It is unthinkable,” Bishop said, “that we should allow those responsible for this to get away with it.”
For that reason, Australia and the Netherlands – from which 38 and 196 people were killed, respectively – “are absolutely determined to not only retrieve the bodies and the remains and bring them home to their loved ones, but also to carry out a thorough, independent, impartial investigation to find those culpable and to hold them to account.”
Clancy asked how it would be possible to punish those responsible, but Bishop would not specify, saying only that the focus for now is on gathering evidence.