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NZ Labour to limit Maori claims

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NZ Labour to limit Maori claims

New Zealand's governing Labour Party has pledged to set a time limit for indigenous Maori to lodge land claims.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said that under a new party policy, all claims would need to be lodged by 2008, with the aim of settling them by 2020.

A growing backlog of Maori grievance claims is said to be concerning the New Zealand public, and the subject is set to become a key election issue.

Ms Clark is seeking a third successive term in the 17 September polls.

"On the historical claims, the time has come to seek finality," Ms Clark told reporters on Thursday.

"Many New Zealanders have found issues dating back to the signing of the treaty difficult to comprehend and hard to resolve," she said, referring to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

Under the treaty - mentioned in many Maori land claims - the Maori agreed to British sovereignty in return for the protection of their rights.

Some Maori - who make up 15% of the New Zealand population - claim to have had land confiscated, while many others complain of lagging behind other New Zealanders in terms of wealth, education and employment.

But while Ms Clark said the land claims should soon be settled, she added that "in the international context, New Zealand's efforts to seek truth and reconciliation through the treaty settlement process stand second to none".

The leader of the main opposition National Party, Don Brash, has also pledged his party would end what he termed the Maori "grievance industry".

He said he would settle all outstanding land claims by 2010 - a date Ms Clark says is unrealistic.

Mr Brash, however, told the Associated Press that Labour's policy was like "putting a band-aid on a gaping wound".

Pre-election opinion polls show Labour and National neck-and-neck, or Labour slightly ahead.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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