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New Zealand war graves damaged in attack in Libya

(Xinhua)

13:33, March 07, 2012

WELLINGTON, March 7 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand government announced Wednesday that it had received confirmation that the gravestones of 11 New Zealand soldiers buried in Libya had been damaged.

The Benghazi War Cemetery, which contains the graves of 238 Second World War soldiers, was attacked by vandals last week and damage was extensive, said a statement from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Eleven New Zealand soldiers were buried at the cemetery and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) had confirmed all 11 headstones had been damaged.

The commission, an inter-governmental agency based in London and funded by member countries to maintain war graves, had said the cemetery would be restored to a "standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi as soon as possible."

The commission said procedures were in place to make the work a priority, according to the statement.

On Monday, New Zealand Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson expressed "deep shock and sadness" at the destruction.

A statement on the CWGC website last week said restoration " could take some time because we will need to source replacement stones."

Video footage emerged last month of a mob smashing headstones at the sites, and reports identified them as members of the Salafist Islamist group angered by the burning of the Koran at a NATO military base in Afghanistan last month.

The Libyan transitional government has reportedly condemned the attacks and been extremely apologetic for the vandalism in the eastern city of Benghazi, near where British and Commonwealth troops fought German and Italian forces during World War II.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key earlier this month condemned the attacks as a shameful act of violence.

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