APIA - In saying sorry to the Samoan people yesterday, Prime Minister Helen Clark seemed to bring closure to the tragic events arising out of New Zealand's inept and incompetent administration of the islands.

"We are truly sorry for what happened all those years ago," she told a gathering of about 500 Samoans and visiting dignitaries gathered in Apia to celebrate the country's 40th anniversary of independence.

Expressing sorrow and regret at the events of the past, Helen Clark said it was hoped that the apology would enable the two countries to build a stronger relationship.


The apology covered the influenza epidemic of 1918, the shooting of unarmed Mau protesters by New Zealand police in 1929 and the banishing of matai (chiefs) from their homes.

For many in the audience, the apology brought tears and high emotion.

Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Efi, whose great-uncle was one of those shot on Black Saturday, said he was deeply moved by the apology.

Former Prime Minister Tupua Tamasese said saying sorry for events that had caused "unbearable grief and resentment" was the right thing to do.

"The fact is that no New Zealand Government has admitted this wrong before, no New Zealand Government has said, 'Look, this is wrong. I'm sorry', that is what is significant.

"This gesture is historic and I accept it in the spirit in which it's given."

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, while acknowledging the apology, appeared to play down the need for it.

"We have long ago forgiven and moved on.

"We have certainly not allowed the past to stifle the development of the excellent relationship that Samoa and New Zealand now enjoy."

Tuilaepa said the Treaty of Friendship signed by New Zealand and Samoa in 1962, "in a real sense demonstrated the desire of both countries to put to rest the past and to concentrate on the future".

Education Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa, whose grandfather was a Mau leader and one of Samoa's highest chiefs, said it had to be acknowledged that the apology was something the New Zealand Government wanted to do.

Asked how she felt about the emotion that greeted Helen Clark's speech, Fiame said the independence celebrations were always emotional.

Others felt the apology was an important step in going forward.

Leatigagaeono Simativa Perese, who heads the Pacific Lawyers Council and Pacific Radio Network in New Zealand, said the apology was a mature thing to do.

"A formal apology is a healing thing."

Sala Vaimili III, a former Health Minister, said the "very touching" apology was the highlight of the celebrations for him.

The suggestion that the apology was just election-year posturing was dismissed by Helen Clark and Labour MP Taito Phillip Field.

"That's nonsense," said Mr Field. "We know that lives were lost as a result of the epidemic as well as Black Saturday.

"We acknowledge that it has been a painful memory. I think this apology brings a conclusion to that."

He rejected any thoughts of compensation arising from the apology.