The NZ Defence Force is making another sweep of an old live firing range in Afghanistan, where seven children were reportedly killed by a left-behind device.
Defence Minister Ron Mark said the remedial work must be completed. But claims linking victims with unexploded ordnance on New Zealand's live firing ranges were yet to be confirmed, he told the Herald.
The revelation came as part of a Stuff Circuit investigation, which found 17 civilians had been killed or injured in incidents linked to New Zealand ranges in the war-torn country.
A child reportedly found a device at Beersheba Range in April 2014 and carried it to a nearby village where an explosion occurred, killing seven children aged between 5 and 12.
A Human Rights Watch report also linked the deaths to a range used by the NZ Defence Force (NZDF).
"If you are an international military and you're deployed in someone else's country, you're responsible for cleaning up your own firing range," Patrick Fruchet, head of the United Nations Mine Action Service in Afghanistan, told Stuff.
"You can't just leave unexploded ordnance behind in somebody else's country."
But, despite New Zealand being asked to undertake of a new sweep of the range as a result of higher standards being brought in, Mark today said the claims regarding the killed children had "not been confirmed".
The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) operated five live firing ranges during its deployment in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province, from 2003 to 2013.
These saw firing of non-explosive small arms rounds, as well as some high explosive rounds, NZDF said in a statement.
The land used by the NZ PRT was previously used by Russian and US Forces for live firing before the NZDF commenced operations.
"During the decade the PRT was deployed, a considerable amount of foreign military ordnance was discovered and disposed of by explosive ordnance disposal personnel who were deployed with the PRT," NZDF said.
"In one six-month deployment in 2007, for example, one team disposed of nearly 10 tonnes of ordnance — none of which was NZDF material."
If a high explosive round did not detonate, the range conducting officer was required to notify the PRT headquarters, which would direct explosive ordnance disposal personnel to the location to dispose of the round, as was standard operating procedure.
Before leaving Afghanistan the NZDF carried out firing range clearances to the agreed standards then approved by the Government of Afghanistan.
After the NZDF PRT deployments finished in 2013, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) introduced a new standard for range clearance which was then adopted by the Afghan Directorate of Mine Action Coordination (DMAC).
As a result, the NZDF was now working with DMAC to clear the range to the new standard, under an operation it had set aside $10m for.
The NZDF noted the Human Rights Watch report, which it received in June last year, but pointed out that the range had been cleared in October 2013 by a contractor of the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, and was assessed as being free from landmines and explosive remnants of war.
"The unfortunate history of conflict in Afghanistan is such that the level of unexploded ordnance contamination across the country makes it extremely difficult to definitively link unexploded ordnance incidents with particular weapons used by a variety of nations, over many years."
Responding to the claims, Mark said told the Herald: "For context, Afghanistan and many other nations, are littered with explosive remnants of war from many decades of conflict."
Ministers were being kept informed on the clean-up operation's progress.