New Zealand SAS troops in Tonga will be brought home as soon as possible, the Government has announced.
A group of 20 New Zealand SAS troops are in Tonga, where the Prime Minister has suddenly been dismissed by the King.
Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee told the Herald yesterday the troops were there for a routine exercise, and today confirmed they would be pulled out of the country as soon as possible.
"Rather than continuing on to do their scheduled training exercise we've concluded this is a time for Tonga to have some clear air, uncomplicated by the coincidental presence of NZDF personnel in the country.
"Tonga is clearly in a process of political transition and it's best we leave them to manage that without the added complication of a military training exercise going on."
The King of Tonga unexpectedly yesterday dismissed the Prime Minister, Akilisi Pohiva, dissolved the Tongan Parliament and ordered a new election to be held by November 16.
Pohiva, the former leader of the Tongan democracy movement, has been Prime Minister since 2014. The move was gazetted today after King Tupou VI met yesterday with the Nobles, the Privy Council and Parliament.
Pohiva came under strong criticism for poor financial management and after cancelling the Pacific Games which Tonga had been planning to host in 2019. There is also speculation among Tongans in New Zealand that he may be unwell.
Brownlee said King Tupou VI had exercised his constitutional right to dissolve Parliament.
"We look forward to learning more in the days ahead about Tonga's plans for governance ahead of November's elections."
Defence Minister Mark Mitchell said it was prudent to withdraw from Tonga.
"The relationship between the NZ Defence Force and the Royal Tongan Defence Force remains strong.
"This is an annual exercise, with the planning for this year's event done in November last year, and we will reschedule it for a more suitable time in the future."