A group of unarmed Australian police officers has entered a war zone to secure the crash site of MH17. The contingent, which is part of a joint Dutch-Australian mission, was forced to turn back from the site this morning due to fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops, according to the ABC’s Stephen McDonell.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Kiev, holding talks with the Ukraine President to allow the officers to carry guns. “Part of that is to have the right, should it ever be necessary, to bring arms into the country for self-defence,” Bishop said this morning, stressing that Australia’s presence in the country remained a “humanitarian mission”.

As in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 88 Australians, it is right that Australia provide expertise in the form of Australian Federal Police officers to assist with identifying the perpetrators of a violent act that killed dozens of Australians. But sending unarmed police officers into an active war zone is a reckless act that could lead to more Australian deaths. Going in with guns, even if they are used for self-defence, is arguably even more so.

Such neutral visitors, attending at the behest of their governments, may make tempting human shields or kidnap targets, particularly for irregular forces of the kind opposing the Ukrainian government, to say nothing of the possibility for further tragic accidents, which are all too common in war zones.