WELLINGTON: The New Zealand Defence Force has announced that the bodies of 27 New Zealand soldiers and a child buried in Malaysia will be brought back to New Zealand between July and September of 2018.
According to the New Zealand Herald, the repatriation of the bodies comes as a result of a petition on behalf of the group called Families of the Forgotten Fallen.
The petition was drawn up by former soldiers Paul Thomas and Andrew Peters, and appealed to the New Zealand government to bring home the bodies of New Zealand soldiers killed in combat abroad, as well as those of their children.
TVNZ reported that the soldiers had been killed during the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960, when the Malayan Communist Party attempted to seize power from the British colonial rulers. New Zealand soldiers were among those opposing the communist insurgency.
Defence Force Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short said the Malaysian military had been working with the New Zealand government to determine the details of the repatriation.
He added: “It is a big issue for Malaysia because they recognise that these people have died in support of their independence as it were. So we expect a very large event once they are interred.”
Short said he expected senior ministers and prominent figures from the New Zealand military to be involved in the event.
In March, the New Zealand government contributed NZ$10 million (RM28 million) for the repatriation effort after continuous efforts by the families.
The families had complained about the difficulty in visiting the graves of their loved ones buried in Malaysia and wanted the government to finance the repatriation of the remains.
Last year, on May 31, the bodies of 30 Australian soldiers and their dependents, many of whom were killed in the Vietnam War, were returned home from Malaysia.
Australia had sent more than 60,000 troops to fight in the Vietnam War and 521 were killed. Soldiers were buried in the nearest Commonwealth cemetery unless their families could pay for repatriation to Australia.
The Australians were buried at the Terendak Military Cemetery in Malacca.
Out of 30 deceased, 21 were Australian soldiers killed in Vietnam, three had been killed in the fight against communist insurgents in Malaysia and eight others were family members.
In 1966, Australia changed the repatriation policy so that all fallen soldiers could be taken home.