'Bring our Maori warriors home'

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Ngapuhi elder David Rankin. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ngapuhi elder David Rankin. Photo / Dean Purcell

A Ngapuhi hapu leader says he is tormented by the thought of "crazy dogs" urinating on the graves of his soldier ancestors buried in North Africa.

David Rankin has called for the repatriation of the bodies of Maori war dead buried in Libya, where the gravestones of all 11 New Zealand soldiers buried at the Benghazi War Cemetery and at the Benghazi British Military Cemetery were among 200 World War II graves desecrated this month.

The Matarahurahu hapu leader has offered $50,000 to start the process, saying Maori have the resources and "we don't want the Government to pay".

"If we can pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars for having shrunken heads returned, then it is fair enough that Maori come up with the money to have our ancestors repatriated."

Mr Rankin said the Middle East was in meltdown mode bordering on anarchy, and soldiers' remains were not safe in North Africa.

He praised the care Turkish and European authorities gave to Allied war graves, but said he did not think the Commonwealth War Graves Commission could protect the graves of New Zealand soldiers in North Africa.

Mr Rankin said he had been sickened when he saw Benghazi headstones kicked over on television. Negotiation with the "crazy dogs" responsible for the grave desecration was impossibleand Maori had to "get over there, pay off the Libyans and get our men home".

Mr Rankin said the RSA - which he described as a Pakeha organisation - had for 70 years dictated to Maori where the bodies of fallen Maori soldiers should lie.

"They want them in foreign cemeteries but our tikanga says the bodies must always be returned home."

Leaving the body of a warrior in a foreign territory was a source of shame for an iwi.

"For too long we have ignored our toa [warriors]. Their spirits are crying out to be returned home and we need to act on that before further desecration occurs."

Mr Rankin said at this stage he sought only the repatriation of Maori soldiers buried in North Africa to protect them from grave desecration.

RSA national chief executive Stephen Clarke yesterday shared Mr Rankin's dismay over the desecration of graves in Libya but said members would take issue with him classing the RSA as "a Pakeha organisation".

Dr Clarke was confident the Commonwealth War Graves Commission would repair the gravestones and restore the serenity of the cemeteries.

He said although there were sometimes desecrations in war cemeteries, the overseas sites offered a "special sense of closure" for former soldiers and relatives who visited their comrades or loved ones where they fell.

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