Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ refusal to directly express displeasure to the Russian Ambassador and his Government over Russian allegations the New Zealand Defence Force failed to clear a firing range of exploded ordnance and are guilty of murdering seven Afghan children is as appalling as it is unsurprising, National’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee says.
“Mr Peters deflected questioning on his refusal to call in the Russian Ambassador by saying the Russians were attempting to engage the British Government on these matters.
“This clearly implied he is happy to accept the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) reputation being significantly tarnished as collateral damage in a scrap between two other Governments.
“Even the Prime Minister acknowledged to Parliament that the NZDF had cleared the firing range in question to the acceptable standard at the time. She noted the range had previously been used by other military, including the Russians.
“While the death of any innocent civilians is distressing, the strength of Russia’s allegations against New Zealand is unacceptable.
“When the Russian’s left Afghanistan after the long civil war some years ago, they left behind an estimated 30 million land mines. These are said to kill or maim 2000 Afghans every year.
“Mr Peters told Parliament there was no need for him to call in the Ambassador because he was watching the proceedings of the House and that would suffice. If Russian Ambassador Zuev was watching, he would’ve heard only conciliatory and soothing commentary from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
“That is a disgrace. At the very least Ambassador Zuev should be called into the Foreign Minister’s office, and the Foreign Minister should directly express New Zealand’s displeasure at these Russian allegations and strongly suggest that Russia pays some of the costs for the further clearing of the 40 square kilometre firing range, currently being borne by the New Zealand taxpayer.”