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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > New Penan Blockades of Logging Roads in Sarawak, Malaysia

New Penan Blockades of Logging Roads in Sarawak, Malaysia

Date : 7th May 2002, Source : Newsgroup

A New Wave of Penan Blockades
The Penan, Kayan and Kenyah protest against logging and sand mining activities on native land

By Thomas Jalong
April 23rd, 2002

>From a Sahabat Alam Malaysia Press Release

At least five blockades have been put up and one protest has been staged by several native communities in the middle Baram of Sarawak's Miri, Division since March 27th, 2002.

This is the first time in more than ten years that numerous Sarawak native communities have organized to put up blockades simultaneously in various locations to draw the attention of the Malaysian authorities to their plight.

Blockades are human barricades and wooden structures that are put up at strategic points across access roads to prevent the movement of logging and plantation companies' vehicles.

The first blockade was erected on March 27 across a road used by Interhill Logging Sdn. Bhd. in the interior of Long Lama, a huge Baram subdistrict, by the Penan communities of Long Sayan and Long Belok in the Sungai Apoh area. Three days later, an agreement was signed at the site between the blockaders and company representatives, and witnessed by a forest officer and police personnel. But later the natives withdrew their signatures, as the agreement was too vague to be meaningful and subsequent negotiations had also not been fruitful. As a result, the blockade was re-erected on April 18.

The second blockade was erected on March 28 by the Penan of Long Itam And Long Pakan in the Sungai Kabeng tributary of the Sungai Patah area, blocking the access road used by Interhill that leads to Penan communities in the upper Sungai Akah area. This blockade was torn down later on the same day because an Interhill managing director agreed to all of the people's demands. He asked the blockaders to come down to Marudi and sign an agreement in front of the District Officer. The people went on April 2, but the Interhill director was not there. Finally, they also resumed their blockade on April 18. Two other communities in Sungai Patah from Long Lilim and Long Lutin and one from Long Pangaran Iman in Sungai Akah have also joined the second blockade.

The third blockade was erected on April 8 by a group of nomadic Penan led by Chief Guman Magut near Long Patah in the Sungai Magoh area of the Tutoh region. Their area is about to be logged by Woodman Sdn. Bhd. This blockade ended on April 13, when the company agreed to withdraw their vehicles from the people's community forest area. However, the community is still apprehensive as the company may enter the area one or two years from now as this has always happened in other areas. They demand that their communal forest reserve to be recognised, protected and endorsed by the State Government.

The fourth blockade was also erected on April 8 by another group of nomadic Penan led by Selai Sega in Sungai Madihit, Ulu Limbang to stop logging operations carried out by Samling Sdn. Bhd. This blockade has continued without interruption so far.

In Sungai Apoh, a fifth blockade erected by the Kayan community of Long Bemang turned ugly when the manager of the timber camp was alleged to have become violent and verbally abused the group. In accordance to their customs when dealing with the unruly, the people had tied the manager and brought him to their longhouse to be calmed down. The people claimed that he was untied after about an hour when he had finally calmed down. They denied having laid a finger on the manager but instead alleged the manager himself had injured his head by hitting it at the side of the vehicle on their way to the longhouse. The people denied that they were taking the law into their own hands by abducting the manager to demand for ransom and instead were only acting according to their own adat for the manager's own safety and the safety of others. 31 people from the longhouse were remanded by the police as a result of the incident but 23 of them have been released since. The rest of them are still being questioned until April 26.

Meanwhile, near the town of Long Lama, the Kayan and Kenyah communities of Uma Akeh and Sungai Puak have joined forces to protest against a company, Besungai Quarry Sdn. Bhd. that is extracting sand from the Baram riverbank near the people's longhouses. Approximately 30 people have staged a protest.

Reasons for the blockades and protests

Of particular concern to SAM is the predicament of the Penan communities, whose plight received national and worldwide attention more than a decade ago. The Penan, who were originally nomadic hunter-gatherers, resorted to erect the blockades as a desperate measure to draw the authorities' attention to their plight and the continued violation of their rights, as detailed below:

  • Rights to their customary land have long been ignored by the logging companies and the State Government. This has resulted in them having to endure increasingly severe living conditions due to the depletion of forest and river resources and their livelihood.

  • Most of them are living in dire conditions without adequate food supply, proper housing facilities, accessible healthcare and education services and other basic necessities like clean water and electricity.

  • Even the settled Penan communities are also not able to make a living as they have no experience in farming and little assistance in terms of technical training and seed access.

  • All the promises by the Sarawak State Government on biosphere reserves, fair compensation process and financial and infrastructure assistance have not been fulfilled.

Before the blockades are dismantled, they would like to see concrete actions taken by both the government authorities and the companies to:
  • Fulfil their demands on the recognition of their rights, a fair and transparent compensation process, and meaningful state assistance so that their living conditions can be improved.

  • Halt all logging operations and plantation activities on their customary land. They maintain that in the future they should be consulted before any economic activities commence on their native land.

  • Recognise that the people have the right to choose development models that best suit them. They assert that development plans must be people-centred and their implementation process must include meaningful participation and prior informed consent from the people.

The people call for the Government of Malaysia, the State Government of Sarawak and the Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Malaysia (SUHAKAM) to ensure that all the demands above are fulfilled. They also call the authorities to protect their constitutional right from intimidation or harassment by both the police and company workers during the blockades.

SAM urges the Federal and State authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the communities involved in the blockades and not to resort to actions such as arbitrary arrests. The blockades are solely meant to assert and protect the peoples' right to their own livelihoods.

Instead, we recommend that the Federal and State Governments, along with SUHAKAM, to conduct full and comprehensive investigations into the people's complaints, and review the licensing and planning policies for development projects that are proposed on land where Native Customary Rights are exercised.

On behalf of the President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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