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Key may miss Forum for soldiers funerals
Key may miss Forum for soldiers' funerals

A Kiwi soldier killed in Afghanistan on the weekend had criticised Prime Minister John Key for not attending the funerals of two other soldiers who died earlier this month.

Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, was killed alongside Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Bamyan province on Sunday.

Their deaths came just two weeks after Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were killed by Afghan insurgents.

Mr Key missed their funerals to fly to the United States, where his son, Max, was competing with the New Zealand under-17s All Stars baseball team.

He said he had to make a "very, very difficult decision" to continue with his planned US trip.

"I've got to let somebody down, but my son makes huge sacrifices for me and my job and, in the final analysis, I've just decided it's probably the right thing to do - to go and support him."

Acting Prime Minister Bill English attended the funerals in Mr Key's place.

Cpl Tamatea criticised Mr Key's decision to continue with his US trip, The New Zealand Herald reports.

"If I was a leader of a country I would attend the funerals of our fallen soldiers..... I wouldn't be at a f****** baseball game!!" he posted on Facebook on August 9.

Mr Key would not comment when asked about the Facebook post on Tuesday.

"Let me say this, look, this was a very brave New Zealand soldier that lost his life in the defence of New Zealand. I have huge respect for him and I don't intend to engage in any other comments about any comments he might have made," he told media.

Asked whether he believed he had made the right choice to travel to the US, Mr Key said: "I'm just not going to litigate that."

Mr Key said he planned to call the three soldiers' families on Tuesday afternoon.

Their bodies are expected to arrive back in New Zealand late on Thursday afternoon, and Mr Key says he will skip the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga next week if it clashes with memorial services for the soldiers.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to attend the forum, and Mr Key says it's likely he will discuss Afghanistan with her and other leaders.

NZ Newswire

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