July 29 2014, updated 11:56am

Tuhoe angry over terrorist 'brand'

Last updated 00:00 17/10/2007
IAIN McGREGOR/Waikato Times
COURT PROTEST: Supporters of Maori activist Tame Iti make their way into the Rotorua District Court.
ACCUSED: Police say Maori activist Tame Iti was preparing to declare an IRA-style war in a bid to establish his long-standing dream of an independent Tuhoe nation.

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Maori living in the eastern Bay of Plenty settlement of Ruatoki say they feel directly targeted by police raids, but police say their actions were necessary to mitigate a serious risk.
View video ... 'IRA-style war plan' ... Tuhoe's sense of injustice

Police arrested 17 people in raids on Monday, carried out under the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act, in Wellington, Auckland, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Hamilton, Whakatane and Ruatoki, 20 kilometres south of Whakatane.

The raids targeted Maori sovereignty, environmental and political activists, and netted a haul of weapons, including molotov cocktails.

Three people were arrested in Ruatoki including Maori activist Tame Iti who will hear today if he will be freed on bail.

A hui was held at a Ruatoki Marae last night, which 30 Tuhoe elders and six police iwi liaison officers attended.

Hui chair Paki Nikora said it was held to give local people an opportunity to express "their concerns and their hurt at the way the police and the armed offenders squad (AOS) deployed...on a peaceful community like Ruatoki without prior warning as to their intentions".

Police were invited to justify their actions and the need to have such a heavy presence within the community, "but we were not satisfied with the responses", he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Nikora said Tame Iti had always been an activist, but he did not believe the things he had been accused of doing.

"We still can't understand why this brand of terrorism has been placed on him which ultimately reflects on us as a people and is branded on us as an iwi."

Police Maori and Pacific ethnic services national manager Superintendent Wally Haumaha attended the hui to reassure residents.

"This was not targeting all those residents and all the iwi and hapu of this area," he said.

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

However, Tuhoe spokesman Tamati Kruger told Radio New Zealand local people were unconvinced by this.

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"It seems that 150 years of failures by Government power continued onto Monday."

He said the community felt the tribal leadership should have been involved in addressing the criminal activity and police Maori liaison officers should have played a bigger part in the operation.

"There was a feeling that their role and their duties and their potential was really undervalued and they seem to be now asked to act like an ambulance down at the bottom of the cliff.

"They should have been at the vanguard."

Assistant Police Commissioner Jon White said police would be "thinking very hard" about the locals' feedback as the operation debriefed.

"We will look at what emerges from that to see what we might change in future operations."

However, he would not go so far as to say police had made mistakes.

"In any operation of this nature there are sensitivities," he said on Radio New Zealand this morning.

"It's very hard to run an operation like this without having a substantial impact."

The operation had to be mounted taking into account the involvement of firearms and the isolation of the area, he said.

"We had to prepare for contingencies. Clearly it was not going to be desirable for us to have a situation that could escalate that we couldn't control, so we had to get in there do the business that we had to do.

"And we did scale it back as soon as we were able to conduct the work."

Police had anticipated a significant public reaction to the operation because of the invoking of the Terrorism Suppression Act, but that had only influenced their thinking up to a point because police had a "job to do", Mr White said.

Police believed Monday's operation was completed "well".

"We had evidence we had good legal advice to suggest that we needed to move on some people.

"The timing was such that we thought we needed to mitigate a reasonably serious risk. So we, on balance, believe the operation was conducted appropriately.

"We were facing people who had evidence who were using firearms and had used them...and in fact in group formations and, so we needed to mount our operation in a way which dealt to any particular contingencies that might have arisen at the point of arrest or search."

Police still had some general inquiries to do, but had completed most of what they wanted to do on Monday, he said.

"We are now collating evidence with respect to any offences that may be committed under the Terrorism Suppression Act."

A decision would be made possibly next week as to whether an application would be made to the Solicitor General to lay charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

"We realise there is significant public interest in this. We don't want to drag it out so we will be doing that as soon as possible."

Protesters supporting those arrested are expected to gather outside Wellington District Court today, following similar protests in Christchurch Cathedral Square and outside Rotorua District Court yesterday.

A small group also congregated outside the New Zealand consulate in Melbourne yesterday in protest to the arrests.

Meanwhile a protest in Wellington's Willis street this morning attracted just three supporters.

- NZPA

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