Whānau accompanied repatriation 'can't be done' – Ron Mark

By Talisa Kupenga

Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson is supporting Veteran Paul Thomas' request to be present at the exhumation of soldiers to be repatriated from Malaysia in August.

"The Defence Force have the authority to allow for Māori customs during this process so that is why I have asked them and the Defence Minister to support this," she says.

Paul Thomas' brother Adrian was the first NZ SAS member killed in Malaysia in 1956 and is one of 29 bodies to be repatriated.  Thomas says he's happy to pay his own way, that being present is in line with Māori protocol and that other families who will also welcome home loved ones have asked him for this service.

Defence Minister Ron Mark says process practicalities in Malaysia means this isn't possible but New Zealand Defence Force cultural advisors will ensure tikanga and protocol is followed.

"There is provision for families if they wish to make their way over and attend the grave site before disinterment, they can't be there during the disinterment that's just something that can’t be done."

National's Defence Spokesman Mark Mitchell says the decision should be appealed.

"I don't necessarily think or know whether or not it would be appropriate to have someone graveside while the exhumation was going on but I think that would be very appropriate to have a family representative or someone there to accompany the bodies back to NZ."

Three first three soldiers were repatriated last month from Fiji and American Samoa.  No official family representative accompanied NZDF but families received loved ones at Ohakea airbase.

When asked if having a cultural advisor in place of a family representative snubs Māori tikanga, Mark says "There may be some who see it that way and that's unfortunate."

Thomas has been trying to repatriate his brother for more than 40 years at the request of his late mother.