Police-raid opponents tone down criticism

By Claire Trevett

Vocal critics of police raids on alleged terrorist-training camps in the Ureweras yesterday softened their stance, saying the threats had to be investigated.

Several prominent MPs have spoken out against the police action after 17 people were arrested in a series of dawn raids last Monday.

Activists and Maori Party and Green MPs have been sceptical about the existence of alleged camps for weapons training in the Ureweras or terrorist activity.

Maori MPs have also accused police of over-reacting and intimidating their communities, likening the raids to the land confiscations of the 1800s and accusing officers of racism in using the Terrorism Suppression Act against Maori activists.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said if there were threats, they had to be examined and investigated.

But he was insistent that police went too far. "I still don't think it's justified to go to the lengths they went to, especially with children around. It is stormtrooper stuff."

Speaking on TVNZ's Agenda programme on Saturday, the Maori Party MP for Waiariki, Te Ururoa Flavell, said: "We have to deal with issues of terrorism very seriously, no doubt about that.

"We have to take a hard course of action on those to make sure those issues are dealt with."

But he said as the local MP his concern was that the police had gone overboard in exercising their warrant, upsetting the Tuhoe people.

"I think that generally what most people are saying is over the top. It's rather excessive on the part of the police. That's not to deny they need to take strong action where appropriate, but 50 to 70 police and one arrest out of the Tuhoe area doesn't seem to match up, really."

A Sunday newspaper yesterday claimed United States President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Opposition leader John Key were the targets of threats.

The Sunday Star-Times said the threats against President Bush coincided with rumours he might come to New Zealand around the Apec meeting in Australia in July, a visit that never eventuated.

The information was passed on to American security forces, who agreed to let New Zealand investigate.

A spokeswoman for Helen Clark said yesterday that she would not comment on matters of security or the details of the newspaper article.

"The police operation can do without a running political commentary.

"In time, the operation will be judged on the strength of the evidence."

Green MP Keith Locke said he remained sceptical of the truth of the threat claims, but if they were true they had to be treated seriously.

"I'm just as concerned as anyone else if there are serious things involved," he said.

"But such serious charges don't justify over-the-top measures and alienating those communities.

"It makes it even more important to do raids in a proper way, because they want the co-operation of those people. By going over the top, they're less likely to get co-operation from the general community."

Both police and Mr Key, who has revealed he was briefed by the SIS about the operation, also refused to comment further.

In the raids police used search warrants issued under the Firearms Act and Terrorism Suppression Act - seizing guns believed to include AK-47s, weapon-resistant clothing, bomb-making instructions and an Irish Republican Army manual.

They arrested 17 people, mainly on firearms charges, although further charges are possible.

They include Tuhoe Maori activist Tame Iti and ex-developer Mark Lyons' former bodyguard Jamie Lockett, who told the Herald on Sunday yesterday that those involved were simply teasing police.

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