The remains of 27 New Zealand soldiers and one New Zealand child buried in Singapore and Malaysia decades ago will come home next year.
The NZ Defence Force appeared before the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee this morning to update them on the repatriation process, which was triggered by a petition on behalf of the group Families of the Forgotten Fallen.
The petition, from former soldiers Paul Thomas and Andrew Peters, called on the Government to bring home the bodies of the fallen New Zealand soldiers and their children, who were buried in non-Commonwealth war cemeteries.
In March this year, Cabinet under the previous Government changed the policy on repatriation and decided to put $10 million towards the repatriation.
Vice-Chief of Defence Force Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short told the committee 25 Army and two Air Force personnel and one child would be coming home next year in July, August or September. Five families had decided not to repatriate.
He said service medals for the fallen were also being considered. "We're looking at their operational service. I don't know what the outcome will be, but we are slowly going through that."
Thomas served the Defence Force in the 1960s and 1970s, including in Vietnam. The petition came after a request from his mother to bring home his brother Adrian, a member of the original SAS squad, who was killed in action and buried in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1956.
Peters also served in Vietnam, and is related to soldier Ike King, buried in Terendak, Malaysia.
The change in Government policy in March followed lobbying from the families as well as the RSA, highlighting the inconsistency in repatriation policy between 1955 and 1971. Repatriation after 1971 was publicly funded.
New Zealand disinterment teams - including archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and dentists - are working with the Malaysian armed forces to reconcile the remains of the 28 bodies.
"It is a big issue for Malaysia, because they recognise that these people have died in support of their independence," Short told the committee.
He said a large ceremony involving senior ministers and Defence Force staff was expected before the remains leave Malaysia. There would be a ceremony once the remains touch down in New Zealand before they are handed back to the families.
The Defence Force would also provide support for reinterment. "We estimate that the cost will be well within the $10m that was stated in the March Cabinet paper."