New Zealand apologizes to Vietnam War veterans

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark arrives at an airport in Seoul May 15, 2008. Clark is in Seoul for a three-day visit. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand formally apologized on Wednesday to its Vietnam War veterans for unfair and harsh treatment they received on their return.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, who demonstrated against the war as a student in the 1970s, made a statement in parliament that it was time to acknowledge the service and sacrifices made by the soldiers.

“The Crown extends to New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families an apology for the manner in which their loyal service in the name of New Zealand was not recognized as it should have been, when it should have been, and for inadequate support extended to them and their families after their return home from the conflict,” Clark said in a prepared statement, agreed with veterans’ organizations.

Veterans exposed to the Agent Orange defoliant used to destroy jungle cover used by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong have also received compensation.

New Zealand, then a close ally of the United States, became involved in the Vietnam war from 1962 with a non-combat contingent, but later sent infantry and artillery units in the mid-1960s.

Nearly 3,900 members of New Zealand’s armed forces served in Vietnam. Thirty seven were killed and 187 wounded. The last troops were withdrawn in 1972.

New Zealand soldiers posted to Vietnam were professional volunteers, but the deployment was widely unpopular and sparked large nationwide protests for its duration.

Clark’s centre-left Labor government has made several formal apologies since it was elected in 1999 for what have been seen as historical wrongs and discrimination.

These have included apologies to New Zealand’s Chinese population, the Pacific nation of Samoa, which New Zealand used to administer, and various indigenous Maori tribes.

Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Bill Tarrant