Evidence 'will judge raids'

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Prime Minister Helen Clark says the police operation against alleged terrorists operating out of the Urewera training camps will be judged "on the strength of the evidence", as fresh claims emerge.

Among those claims yesterday was a report in the Sunday Star-Times that Miss Clark, Opposition leader John Key and US President George W Bush were among those targeted in threats recorded by police investigating the camps.

Miss Clark refused to comment on the claim yesterday and Mr Key could not be contacted. Miss Clark, meanwhile, cautioned against politicians wading into the debate.

According to yesterday's report, the three leaders were discussed as potential targets by those under surveillance during the Special Investigations Group operation.

Up to a dozen of the 17 people arrested during last Monday's raids attended a training camp in the Urewera region last weekend, it was reported. The termination of the police operation was timed to allow participants to return home from the camp.

Police were working to identify others who had attended camps during the surveillance period. They said more arrests were likely.

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The raids have sparked heated debate, and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has warned they risk setting back race relations by 100 years. But the party appeared to be taking a more conciliatory tone yesterday, with Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell saying that claims like those concerning threats against Miss Clark, Mr Key and Mr Bush had to be taken seriously.

"If people are carrying weapons, then we should let the law run its course," he told TV One's Agenda. "We've got to wait a bit longer for information around those sort of serious claims about George Bush and Helen Clark and so on."

Mr Flavell said there appeared to be "a difference of interpretation" around the purpose of the training camps: Tuhoe people saw them as an opportunity "for people to come together" and talk about history, the environment and language "and possibly the care and protection of weaponry" given their location on the back doorstep of the Urewera National Park.

"That's totally different from a military operation ... where people are plotting to overthrow the Government or possibly assassinate George Bush."

Mr Flavell also revealed that a senior police manager had told him that all 17 of those arrested had visited the Urewera National Park in the last year or so.

Earlier this year, Mr Bush and his wife Laura were tipped to make a brief visit to New Zealand at the conclusion of September's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney. An American embassy spokeswoman declined to comment on whether any threat to Mr Bush was a factor in his decision not to come to New Zealand.

The raids sparked protests on Saturday in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, amid claims of a police over-reaction. About 100 people marched in Auckland bearing Maori sovereignty flags.

The Dominion Post