Families of New Zealand military personnel buried overseas will be offered the chance to repatriate their loved ones, after the Government changed its policy in the face of pressure from families and the RSA.

Veterans' Affairs Minister David Bennett said the decision will cover New Zealand soldiers buried overseas between 1955 and 1971 in Singapore and Malaysia.

The first phase will cover 36 people buried in Singapore and Malaysia, with each repatriation expected to cost between $170,000 and $200,000.

It comes after recommendations by the Veterans' Advisory Board, and the advocacy of the RSA and affected families.


"Following the efforts by families to have their loved ones brought home, the Government last year asked the Veterans' Advisory Board to look into New Zealand's repatriation policy. The board identified a number of inconsistencies, and the Government has listened," Bennett said.

"New Zealand had an inconsistent policy of repatriation between 1955 and 1971. Families could opt to meet repatriation costs themselves, but not all could afford to do so. Other civil servants were also repatriated. We want to restore fairness for those families affected."

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) will also consider extending the offer to the families of 13 New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial between 1955 and 1971 in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Korea, and the United Kingdom, and all countries involved have been contacted.

The Government had come under pressure to change its position not to repatriate bodies of soldiers who were killed while serving abroad between 1948 and the mid-1970s.

Around 100 New Zealand soldiers are still buried overseas, mostly in Malaysia but also in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Samoa, Fiji and Cyprus.

The families of some soldiers have expressed concerns about the conditions and access to war graves, in particular in Malaysia. Some of the soldiers are buried at sites which are not official Commonwealth war graves.

In August last year, then Prime Minister John Key and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee were criticised at a Vietnam War memorial for the Government's repatriation policy. Key said at the time that it was a "hugely complicated" issue and that some families wanted their relatives to "rest where they fell".

The NZDF will oversee the just-announced repatriation process, including consultation with the families and the planning and subsequent return of any bodies.


Bennett said the decision on whether to bring the bodies home would be the families' to make.

"If they choose not to repatriate, the graves will continue to be cared for under current agreements. We will support the families through this process."

Bennett thanked the Malaysian and Singaporean governments for caring for the New Zealanders interred in their cemeteries.

The Government will provide an initial $750,000 to the NZDF to establish the project group. Further funding to allow the bodies to be returned will be made available once the full cost is identified.