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New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands died yesterday, soon after being flown to Auckland on a medical evacuation flight.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Te Rongotoa (Tia) Barrett died in Middlemore Hospital after a "short illness".

The 62-year-old diplomat was flown to New Zealand last week. His death comes less than a year after his predecessor died in office.

Brian Donnelly, former New Zealand First MP and Government minister, also died within a year of taking up what he described as his "dream job".

Details of Mr Barrett's tangi have not yet been announced.

Mr McCully offered his condolences to Mr Barrett's wife, Theresa, and two children, Nick and Caroline.

"Tia was a respected diplomat, particularly in the Pacific where he served a number of postings," Mr McCully said.

Mr Barrett joined the Foreign Ministry in 1973. He was High Commissioner to Solomon Islands and Fiji and had been posted in Tonga, New Caledonia and France. He held other positions within the ministry and was a strong advocate for a Maori perspective, Mr McCully said.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Mr Barrett was a "distinguished ambassador for our nation" and his death was a shock.

Having met Mr Barrett in Rarotonga it was "immediately obvious that he was greatly loved by the people (there). Tia was quite simply a beautiful man - loving, respectful and thoroughly good fun."

Labour Maori Affairs spokesman Parekura Horomia said Mr Barrett would be missed.

- NZPA