Blockades to protect Penans' 'last frontier'

28 August 2007 General News
One area is in Long Belok and Long Sayan in the Apoh region of middle Baram where a road blockade was re-erected on June 2 by some 50 Penans.

This was done to prevent Rimbunan Hijau, a Sarawak-based timber giant, from entering and extracting timber within communal forest reserves in the upper reaches of the Belok River.

The police visited the blockade site in mid-June and early July but have not taken any action against the protestors, according to Marudi-based Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Jok Jau in a statement.

The natives in the Apoh and Tutuh areas have conveyed their ‘grave concern' to SAM through their representatives in that native rights to the land have been ignored.

Another new blockade was erected by the Penans in Long Nen, Sungai Layun together with the nomadic Penans from Sungai Marong in upper Tutoh on Aug 1 to stop logging activities on their land by Samling, a Miri-based timber conglomerate, and their sub-contractor Jumbo Green.

Raja Jemali, head of the nomadic Penan group, said the two groups decided to join forces because they cannot handle the pressure from the company on their own.

Last frontier

A protest is still on-going against what SAM described as controversial road-building by Samling in upper Baram.

Blockades by Penans in the upper reaches of Baram have been set up at different sites in the area for the last 14 years.

"This area is regarded to be one of the last remaining primary forests in Sarawak and the last frontier to be exploited by the logging companies since the 1960s," Jok Jau said.

The upper Baram blockades, often associated with the Long Benalih villagers, had been dismantled by the authorities on numerous occasions.

SAM learned that on July 4, the authorities destroyed the barricades again but the villagers re-erected it shortly after.

"The continuous dismantling and rebuilding of the blockades have received much attention in recent years, particularly after the concession's inclusion into the controversial Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) scheme whose legal and sustainable claims have been questioned by national and international civil society groups," SAM said.

In the past, SAM added, the Long Benalih village had to bear to the brunt of being insinuated as the sole village protesting against logging in the area, at the expense of other villages.

Environmental impacts

The natives have been carrying out what is described as the longest-serving non-violent protest against logging in Malaysian history.

They are also concerned with road construction which is getting deeper inland and is now only 2km from Benalih.

"However its adverse environmental impacts, in particular water pollution, are currently being impacted upon other neighbouring Penan villages as well, including Long Pengaran Iman and Long Pengaran Kerian," said Jok Jau.

To ensure that the road construction is not impeded in any way, SAM said, it is being guarded by General Operations Force (GOF) personnel.

In mid July, the Benalih blockade was reportedly dismantled again by timber company workers, together with the GOF personnel. The people were warned that they would be arrested if they continued with the blockade.

SAM called on the government to respect the rights of the Penans, calling for cessation of their operations in the native territories.

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