Saturday, 20 Oct 2007

Lockdown traumatised families, says elder

By MIKE WATSON - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 18 October 2007
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A Ruatoki elder has rejected the police response as to why their settlement was the subject of heavy-handed terror raids.

"The police have ulterior motives and are testing out the Suppression Terrorism Act on Tuhoe people," said Ruatoki executive committee member Paki Nikora.

"We want some answers to our questions."

A hui at Otunuku Marae between kaumatua and police in Ruatoki on Tuesday had been unsatisfactory, he said.

But police have defended their actions in locking down the small Bay of Plenty settlement and nearby Taneatua on Monday while armed police stormed and searched homes.

Several people suspected of being involved in a guerrilla camp in the valley beyond the township were arrested.

Mr Nikora said police had been unable to say whether the actions, arrests, search warrants and road cordon were warranted.

The hui was called by Tuhoe elders over concerns of the police actions.

"They could neither confirm nor deny what their actions were based on. Their actions have traumatised our community, our families, the hapu."

He said the "scars" would take a long time to heal.

"We are being branded as terrorists.

"The only terrorist activity in the valley this week has come from the police and armed offenders squad.

"There is a lot of hurt instilled on our community, which will never go away."

Mr Nikora said elders plan to talk with Maori activist Tame Iti and discuss police allegations of military style training camps with him.

Iti was arrested on Monday on charges of unlawful possession of firearms.

Mr Nikora said stories of Iti creating an independent Tuhoe state through IRA-style tactics were "nonsense".

"Tama has been an activist all his life. He is renowned for raising special issues affecting his people."

The police Maori and Pacific ethnic services national manager, Superintendent Wally Haumaha, one of six iwi liaison officers to attend Tuesday's hui, said taht the operation was not targeting all residents and all the iwi and hapu of the Ruatoki area.

"It was about certain individuals and of varying ethnicities right throughout the country."

Assistant Police Commissioner Jon White said police would be "thinking very hard" about the residents' feedback, but would not say police had made mistakes.

It was hard to run an operation that involved firearms on a potentially large scale without having a substantial impact.

"So we, on balance, believe the operation was conducted appropriately."

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