Hone Harawira has described Osama bin Laden as "a man who fought for the rights, the land and the freedom of his people".

In tributes on Maori-language television, the leader of the new Mana Party said the al-Qaeda founder should be "honoured" rather than "damned" in death according to Maori culture.

Mr Harawira twice paid tribute to bin Laden in te reo, saying it was Maori custom to acknowledge the dead.

United States President Barack Obama announced on Monday US troops had killed the al-Qaeda leader and the news was quickly welcomed by Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff.

However, many Maori politicians had a different perspective.

Mr Harawira said on Maori Television's Native Affairs that bin Laden had "pursued independence for his people, his family and his tribe".

When asked if he was concerned about how such comment could be construed, he said he was Maori and "tributes to the dead are always appropriate" in Maori custom.

Mr Harawira also said on Te Karere that it was custom for Maori to "honour and mourn the deceased".

"So I acknowledge him and bid him farewell. Return to your ancestors who wait for you beyond the veil of death.

"Despite what the media has said, his family, his tribe, his people are in mourning.

"They mourn for the man who fought for the rights, the land and the freedom of his people. We should not damn them in death, but acknowledge the positive aspects of life."

Speaking on Te Karere, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples was also uncomfortable about people openly celebrating bin Laden's death.

He said utu (revenge) was a Maori custom. "But we don't agree with the extent of the celebrations or with anyone celebrating the assassination of anyone and then the person's body being discarded into the sea."

Labour MP Shane Jones said he did not have the same level of affection for bin Laden as Mr Harawira.

He also scotched Mr Harawira's claim that it was Maori custom to always pay tribute to the dead.

"In the old days, a great enemy - if he wasn't eaten - his bones were used to make musical instruments. So this romantic notion that in the old time, Maori spent hours of their time saluting the enemy was not the case.

"Enemies were turned to dust and people rejoiced, because of the suffering they had caused."

Mr Harawira was more restrained when talking to English-language media, saying only that the war in Afghanistan had cost a lot of money and many thousands of lives were lost.

"I would sincerely hope that this could be the end to all that loss of life and waste of money ... Sadly, I don't think it will."

He also said he did not agree with statements by Mr Key and Mr Goff that the world would be a safer place.

Professor Ranginui Walker also acknowledged bin Laden on Te Karere. Dr Walker likened him to the 19th century Maori prophet Te Kooti Rikirangi because of his fight for his country.

Dr Walker said the time had come to pull New Zealand troops out of Afghanistan and bin Laden should have been taken alive and given a trial.

* Translations used are from English subtitles on the programmes involved.

- Staff reporter