October 15th, 2007
| | http://www.stuff.co.nz/4238597a10.html
Maori families living in the Ureweras feel "intimidated" and "harassed" by police anti-terrorism raids, Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell says. |
Several people have appeared in court following a nation-wide police swoop this morning targeting Maori and political activists.
Police cited possible crimes under the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act as the reasons for the raids.
Police Commissioner Howard Broad said the sting was the culmination of a year-long investigation into weapons training camps alleged to have been held in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
High profile activist Tama Iti is among those charged and Ruatoki residents are polarised by what is happening.
One woman who asked not to be named said "some people like [Tame Iti] and some think he is just an idiot.
"He is all mouth. I don't think he is a danger in that sense but he is one of the idiots who fires his rifle off - he only has to slip. All the maraes have clamped down on him, he's not to bring guns onto any of the maraes any more, they've had enough."
Said another man: "It's about time they sorted him out."
Ameria Nuku said she was stopped at the way to work at 7.45 am by police.
"They were checking vehicles even under the bonnets looking for firearms or weapons of any sort. They had a list of people who had firearms but no licenses."
Mr Flavell today questioned the manner in which police had carried out the raids in Ruatoki and the surrounding Urewera Valley.
He said at one point a school bus was stopped and searched as armed police swarmed over the area.
Some people were arrested by armed officers in front of their children. The community was left feeling fearful and under siege, he said.
"The real concern that's been expressed to my office has been the impact on the young children and families and mothers who had to see officers running around with guns this morning," he said.
"The Maori families living in my electorate feel unduly harassed by the number of search warrants imposed, the charges laid, and the intimidation they believe they have experienced this morning."
Mr Flavell said most people in the area owned firearms as hunting was a popular form of food-gathering in the Ureweras.
He said it appeared as if Maori had been targeted, as had been a fear of critics when the Terrorism Suppression Act was passed in 2002.
While public safety was paramount, he hoped police had the evidence to back up their claims or their relationship with Maori communities would be seriously damaged.
RESIDENT 'MYSTIFIED' BY WELLINGTON RAID
Sam Buchanan, who lives at 128 Abel Smith St in Wellington's Te Aro district, said he was mystified why his home was raided by police.
Police left the scene shortly before 1pm with various bags containing clothes and documents.
Mr Buchanan said he had not been involved in any training camps.
He would not say if he was involved with Greenpeace or any other environmental group.
There is a sign on the door of the house which reads The Mechanical Tempest.
Mr Buchanan said he and other residents ran a free bicycle repair workshop.
The house was used as a venue for numerous classes, including language and dance.
There had never been any firearms at the property but "millions" of people had been associated with this house, Mr Buchanan said.
The four Wellington accused have connections with the house, but none of them live there, and no one was arrested during the police raid.
Mr Buchanan said police told him he could not leave the house and that the warrant for the search was issued under the Terrorism Act.
Police had broken a glass door into the house and Mr Buchanan said he supposed he was expected to replace it.
"It's been a very annoying morning," he said.
An associate of the four Wellington accused, Arthur Price, said the community was in shock over the arrests.
"It's just absolutely ridiculous. I'm almost positive none of them have been involved with anything to do with firearms.
"They're all peace activists," he said.
Green Party MP Keith Locke today said he too was sceptical of aspects of the raids.
It appeared different groups had been targeted in different parts of the country and it was hard to see how some of them could be related.
As well as the Wellington "community house" being among the raids, members of the anti-mining Save Happy Valley group in Christchurch had also been questioned by police.
"That's exactly what I and other critics warned about when the law was passed in 2002," he said.
"It just seems strange that all these different groups with different agendas seem to have been raided on the same day."
Greenpeace New Zealand said it knew nothing about any of the alleged activities which had caused the police raids and denied any involvement.
New Zealand First MP Ron Mark linked the raids to criminal gangs.
"Police must be congratulated for their actions in heading off what appears to be a major threat to public safety," said the party's law and order spokesman Ron Mark.
"I am particularly concerned, however, as there is a strong smell of involvement by our established criminal gangs in today's events.
Mr Mark, who has in the past called for gangs to be outlawed, said they were well known black market suppliers of restricted weapons – systematically raiding private arms collectors to obtain the arms.
- With NZPA and Sunday Star Times