Dayak leadership stands up for Native Customary Rights
By Tony Thien, Malaysiakini
A senior Dayak state minister spoke out about the uneasiness and insecurities the Dayaks in Sarawak are feeling regarding their lands and their rights to it.
Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president and state land development minister James Masing speaking after the party's supreme council meeting in Miri over the weekend, said there was a need to clarify once and for all the Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands and state lands.
"We like the government to consider because our party is rural-based so land will be an issue."
All of the party's elected representatives, except one, attended to discuss the NCR as a main agenda item on Saturday.
It is learnt that Dayak members have spoken of their growing concern about threats to the future status of NCR lands, especially with the opening up of more lands for commercial oil palm plantations and, tree planting and harvesting schemes throughout Sarawak.
There has been increasing conflicts between oil palm and timber companies and NCR land-owners comprising mostly Dayaks such as Iban, Orang Ulu and Bidayuh communities.
There are now nearly 200 litigation cases by NCR land-owners pertaining to lands claims and damages to crops.
Aware of Pakatan's ploy
Masing announced that his party would set up a task force to look into issues related to NCR lands as it has become a hot topic raised by Pakatan Rakyat and other opposition parties.
"We are aware that Pakatan Rakyat is using the issue for their own interest," Masing said, adding that, "we are not responding to them as we have been doing it way before they did.
"We want to tailor it and put it into a good package that the government can accept."
Masing and his former colleagues in the now defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) were vocal in the early days of the party's struggle to defend the rights of Dayaks to their land.
Various NGOs - like the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) - which Malaysiakini spoke to were happy that the minister had finally taken up the cause to help fight and defend Dayak rights to their NCR land.
Sadia secretary-general Nicholas Mujah told Malaysiakini today that he agreed with Masing's views, adding that the authorities should therefore go down to the people and talk to the local communities.
By defining the whats and wheres of NCR lands - with the help of those communities - authorities can avoid unnecessary conflicts emanating from the issuing of new commercial leases.
(7 July 2008)