18 Nov 2019

Prime Minister expects Defence Force to speed up clearance of Afghanistan firing ranges

5:50 pm on 18 November 2019

The Prime Minister says she's set a very clear expectation that the Defence Force speeds up the clearing of firing ranges in Afghanistan, but says it's not possible to conclude New Zealand is responsible for civilian deaths.

No caption

Jacinda Ardern said as soon as the weather permits, work to clear the firing ranges should begin in earnest. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

A Stuff Circuit investigation has revealed 17 civilians were either killed or injured in connection to unexploded ordnance left on New Zealand's firing ranges, including seven children, aged between 5 and 12, who died in an explosion near the Beersheba Range.

The Defence Force says the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team withdrew from Afghanistan in 2013, after clearing the range near Beersheba in accordance with the standards of the time.

Jacinda Ardern said she spoke to Defence Force representatives today and set her expectation again that they "expedite the clearing of these firing ranges" to new standards.

"As soon as the snow and the weather permits, which I'm told will be roughly in April of next year, that the work to clear those firing ranges should begin in earnest."

Ms Ardern said this is an ongoing situation that predates this government and something she was made aware of in the middle of last year.

However in response to questions about whether New Zealand should offer compensation to the victims' families, Ms Ardern said it wasn't possible to conclude the munitions that were directly responsible for these deaths were New Zealand's.

"The explanation to me is that across a range of firing ranges the unexploded munitions that are still found there are from a range of different defence forces.

"Now, my very clear view is that of course any loss of life for any unexploded ordnance is an absolute tragedy, it is, regardless of who is responsible for those ordnance.

"What we need to make sure is that New Zealand takes responsibility for the clearance of our firing ranges," Ms Ardern said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs