Government offers to repatriate 36 soldiers' bodies

The Government has offered to bring home the remains of military personnel and their dependants buried overseas between 1955 and 1971 in Singapore and Malaysia.

Up to 36 service personnel and their dependants have been identified to be repatriated, if their families want them to be.

This would complete the repatriation of all those associated with the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War.

It's a change of heart by the government, which has refused to do so for decades. It will now set aside around $7m for the process, which is up to $200,000 per repatriation. 

"We're sorry for any families that have been through this process and we're righting a wrong now, and making it possible for them to have their loved ones back home," Veterans' Affairs Minister David Bennett says.

Mr Bennett says the Government has listened to advice from the Veterans' Advisory Board, who found a number of inconsistencies in repatriation policy.

"New Zealand had an inconsistent policy of repatriation between 1955 and 1971. Families could opt to meet repatriation costs themselves, but not all could afford to do so. Other civil servants were also repatriated. We want to restore fairness for those families affected."

Mr Bennett says the NZDF is looking at extending the offer to the families of New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial between 1955 and 1971 in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Korea, and the United Kingdom, and all countries involved have been contacted.

It will be up to the families whether they want to bring the bodies home, otherwise the graves will continue to be cared for under current agreements.

$750,000 will be provided to the NZDF to establish the project group, with further funds added once the full cost is established.

Overseas burial policy between 1899 and 1955 was to bury service personnel who died overseas close to where they died and not be repatriated to New Zealand.

In early 1955 the policy changed to allow families to repatriate personnel who died overseas for burial at home, paid at the families' own expense.

In 1971 the policy changed again and the Government offered to repatriate service personnel and their dependents at public expense.

However that did not include the remains of service personnel who were already interred.

In 2015, then Prime Minister John Key ruled out repatriating the bodies of Kiwis killed in the Vietnam War, interred in Malaysia, Korea and Japan.

Families wanting their loved ones repatriated need to contact the Veterans Affairs Ministry.