Ex-interpreters implore NZ to save their lives

Twelve former Afghan interpreters have emerged from their hideouts in war-torn Afghanistan to plead with the New Zealand Defence Force to save their lives.

A formal letter from the group was hand delivered to the director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan last Saturday and asks the Government to extend the current interpreters' resettlement package offer.

Last month, 23 interpreters employed by the PRT were offered a chance to resettle in New Zealand when the troops pull out in April but former interpreters were excluded.

Twelve senior ex-translators, who all worked with the PRT for more than five years, have now grouped together and sent a desperate plea to officials saying their lives are in jeopardy.

The emotive letter explains how the former interpreters were well-known to "warlords" and that most of them had been forced into hiding because of death threats.

It also says the insurgents are "on the offensive across most of the country" and have already started executing Afghans with connections to coalition forces.

"We have become prisoners of our own country and are unable to make a living freely out of fear of the murderous Taleban," it reads.

"As we know, once the coalition forces leave, the security will further deteriorate. As soon as the insurgents regain power or get strong enough they will start hunting us down."

It also stipulates that the Taleban would draw no distinction between a current and former interpreter.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman told The Press he had not received the letter but said "the Government has previously indicated it is keeping an open mind on such issues".

Former senior interpreter and group leader Bashir Ahmad, 33, left the PRT in 2010 after fielding death threats. He would receive late night calls from insurgents saying: "You are working with the infidels. If we catch you; we will behead you."

Ahmad served with the Kiwi troops for six years, trained many of the current interpreters and is now in hiding with his wife and three young children in a small township in northern Afghanistan.

"I cannot go out in public because people know I worked with the foreigners and I am scared someone will call the Taleban."

Most former interpreters in hiding were "mentally sick" with fear, he said.

The Taleban put a bounty of the head of foreign soldiers, but paid double for local interpreters, he said. "They [interpreters] are the eyes and ears of the foreigners and considered traitors to the Taleban."

The insurgents were becoming increasingly violent and Ahmad said "many, many people" with connections to coalition forces had been beheaded.

"We tried our best to help the PRT and now we are abandoned and excluded by this offer. They don't know how much we are suffering from this."

The Press