Soldiers' bodies not to be returned home

(Getty/File)
(Getty/File)

The Government is standing firm on its position not to repatriate the bodies of New Zealand soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.

Malaysia is the resting place for 36 Kiwis killed in the Vietnam War or the earlier Malayan Emergency, while a further 35 are interred in Korea and eight in Japan.

A campaign led by relatives of those buried in Malaysia to have the bodies brought home has so far been unsuccessful, and Prime Minister John Key has confirmed the government doesn't intend to change its policy.

"The position has been that we've maintained the graves of those who died overseas," he told reporters in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi yesterday.

He said it was a "very delicate issue" and there were "quite a range of views from families", some who wanted relatives returned and others who preferred they were left.

Asked about the case of a widow who wished to be buried alongside her husband, Mr Key said he understood "exactly how emotional that would be and I really feel for that person".

"It doesn't sound like an unreasonable request. The problem is really about the delicacy of exhuming someone from their grave," he said.

"It's one of those things where there's no perfectly right answer here, but for a long period of time successive governments have taken the view that it's best left as long as those graveyards are properly maintained and I still think on balance ... that we're right to continue to do that."

It is estimated the repatriation would cost about $250,000.

Mr Key said it was too complex an issue to deal with on a case-by-case issue, especially given that prior to 1970 a vast number of New Zealanders were buried overseas.

NZN