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Government must lift the veil on SAS

Government must lift the veil

The Government is ignoring recent history in its adamant refusal to lift the veil of secrecy it has cast over the presence of New Zealand combat troops in Afghanistan, Green MP Keith Locke said today.

Defence Minister Mark Burton had earlier told Parliament that there is a long-held tradition of the government not giving any information on SAS commitments overseas.

"That excuse simply does not wash," said Mr Locke. "The National government gave quite a bit of information on New Zealand's SAS contribution to the Multinational Coalition in the Gulf in 1998."

"On February 16 that year Prime Minister Jenny Shipley announced that a 20-member SAS unit would be part of the force and would only be used in search and rescue work.

"Their departure on February 18 was publicly announced. On March 16 it was announced that their stay in Kuwait would be extended until the end of April. Their stay was extended beyond that, and on May 11 it was announced that the 24 SAS personnel in the Gulf would return to New Zealand and be replaced by another 11 SAS troops.

"Putting a blanket ban on any information on our SAS troops in Afghanistan doesn't have any justification.

Mr Locke said the Defence Minister's answers to questions in the House today were totally unsatisfactory.

"Instead of trying to discredit one of two American web-sites that conveyed information on our SAS unit in Afghanistan, the Minister should providing at least as much information as the American military is giving out about our SAS.

"Responding to one of my questions today, Mr Burton refused to say when New Zealanders would be reassured that our SAS troops were not involved in incidents where innocent civilians were killed.

"The public of New Zealand has a right to know what our soldiers are doing in our name."

ENDS

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