I didn't die in Syria: Kiwi artist

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:20 10/06/2014

Kiwi artist fighting in Syria

 Chen Weiming
ARTIST ACTIVIST: Chen Weiming has visited Syria several times to work with the Free Syrian Army.

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A New Zealand national feared to have been killed in fighting in Syria is alive and in Las Vegas.

"I was never killed," Chinese born artist Chen Weiming said from Las Vegas where he has just returned following his latest trip into Syria.

There were rumours in the Auckland Chinese community that he had died.

His wife, Eryou Chen, who is in Auckland, is angry her husband wants to keep fighting in Syria and even more annoyed about hearing he had supposedly died in fighting.

"She is not happy about it," a family friend said.

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed that a small number of New Zealanders were known to be fighting with forces trying to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

A Syrian representative at the United Nations said during the weekend that a New Zealander had been killed in fighting, and authorities here confirmed that but did not name him.

Chen, who is better known in New Zealand for sculpting a stature of Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, that stands in Orewa, north of Auckland, said he had been to Syria three times, joining up with the Free Syrian Army.

He described getting there through Turkey and other routes.

"I still have a New Zealand passport and an American green card," he said.

"The New Zealand passport is very useful, you do not need visas."

To prove he had fought in Syria, Chen supplied photos of himself, mainly with Syrian people and occasionally holding a AK-47 assault rifle.

He said he had been involved in fighting in Syria.

"It is very, very dangerous," he said.

Syrian friends tried to keep him away from the front line but it was everywhere, he said.

Chen did not know of other New Zealanders involved in Syria.

In letters to fundraising supporters, Chen said he had been based around Aleppo helping with medical clinics and teaching.

He complained that China was not speaking out about Syria and that was why he was continuing to visit.

He said violent death was now commonplace among the people he travelled with as were frequent explosions and gunfire.

Chen said he would return to New Zealand later this year to fund raise for a return trip to Syria.

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