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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 5) – Officers of the New Zealand Police will remain in Tonga until March this year, taking part in the criminal investigation into the destruction of the Nuku'alofa business district on November 16, 2006.

The involvement of the New Zealand police will continue until March 2007, said the New Zealand High Commission to Tonga, Dr Michael McBryde, this afternoon.

New Zealand and Australian Police were flown to Tonga on November 18, together with soldiers from the two countries, to assist their Tongan counterparts in restoring law and order in the capital Nuku'alofa following the events of November 16.

Dr McBryde said that the current 10 New Zealand Police officers arrived in Tonga a week before Christmas, "and three of them are of Tongan origin, including the senior police officer." He said that he visited them at the Central Police Station this morning and they appeared to be very busy. "They go out on community duty and also assist with criminal investigations."

Since the first New Zealand police contingent arrived in Tonga on November 18, they have been rotated and the current contingent is the fourth, "and the most that we have ever had at any one time were 35."

Criminal Investigation was one specific area where the New Zealand and Australian police have engaged during their attachment to the Tongan Police Force. At present three Australian police officers are also on attachment to the Tongan Police.

With regards to the arrest and the charge of ringleaders, Dr McBryde repeated a comment that was made by the New Zealand Police Minister, Annette King, whom he said had visited Tonga recently, and had stressed the importance for the police to be able to carry out thorough investigations before they laid any charges.

So far, over 900 suspected offenders relating to the destruction of the Nuku'alofa business centre have been arrested and charged, and the preliminary inquiry hearing in the Magistrate's Court will start early in February.

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