National | Malaysia

Repatriation of soldiers one step closer

The descendants of soldiers who served in the 1950s war in Malaysia are one step closer to bringing their family members home. Although shocked at how quickly their plight has progressed at a government level, the Families of the Forgotten Fallen campaign do not want their cause to become a game of political football in the lead-up to the general elections.

Following an announcement from the Minister of Veterans' Affairs, the Families of the Forgotten Fallen want their loved ones repatriated sooner.

Whānau spokesperson Paul Thomas says, “Let’s get on with the job. It's not that difficult. Delaying this for next year's elections isn't going to help those next of kin."

It's the first time a Veterans' Minister has directed the Veterans' Advisory Board (VAB) to consider the repatriation policy and provide him with advice. The review will extend to all veterans who died serving overseas between 1948 and the mid-1970s and are not included in the current policy.

Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Craig Foss, "The implementation of policy or the interpretation doesn't look like it was fair so that's what we're looking into. There is a very strong interest from the community supporting the Malaysian veterans and later the Vietnam veterans but of course, there is about 99 New Zealand veterans buried outside Commonwealth War Graves across mostly Asia-Pacific."

The VAB will consult with families and among other issues look into cultural considerations including tikanga Māori. The board will meet by mid-November with initial advice expected come March. Thomas says families have waited long enough.

"It's been a long time. Some of these guys have been over there for sixty odd years now. To be more speedy with all this would really aid the next of kin."

Thomas expects to meet with the VAB chairman this weekend.

Veterans' Affairs Minister Craig Foss says he does not expect the repatriation policy to become leverage at next year's election. The March deadline is to allow the VAB time to do its work and given the complexity and wide range of issues, the timeframe was already tight.