SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian soldiers killed in the Vietnam war and buried in Malaysia and Singapore will be brought home with full military honours if their families agree, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday.
Twenty-four soldiers who died in the conflict lie in Malaysia's Terendak Cemetery, which sits inside a large, operational military base, and one other in Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
"We can never restore those who have died in the service of our country but we can and we should offer solace and support to the families left behind," Abbott told parliament.
Australian soldiers killed in World Wars I and II and the Korean War were buried near to where they fell but around the time of the Vietnam engagement, this policy changed and bodies were brought home.
Almost 60,000 Australian military personnel fought alongside the United States in Vietnam, with 521 ultimately losing their lives. Of these, all but the 25 in Malaysia and Singapore were brought home.
"We don't want soldiers killed in the same war treated differently," Abbott said, adding that the government was offering to repatriate the remains of all the Australians interred at Terendak and Kranji.
"The decision to take up this offer of repatriation rests, as it should, with the soldiers' widows, children or immediate family," he said.
"They can start to bring their loved ones home or they may choose to let them rest where they lie. Either way, their decision will be respected."
Australia became one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic ties with Hanoi in 1973, and has become a substantial aid donor and business partner of the communist nation.