Road-blocking Penan communities fear imminent police action
LONG BANGAN / LONG NEN / LONG BELOK, Sarawak / Malaysia. Three indigenous Penan communities in the rainforests of Borneo are fearing police action on account of their protest against oil palm and acacia plantation projects on their native lands.
Last Thursday, 20 August, Penan of Long Nen, Long Bangan and Long Belok in Sarawak's Tutoh river region set up manned road blockades to prevent vehicles from a number of logging and plantation companies from entering their native lands.
According to Penan sources, four policemen visited the blockades on Sunday and announced that they would come back with more of their colleagues to dismantle them. The blockades are mainly directed against Pusaka KTS and Samling, two controversial Malaysian logging and plantation giants.
Both companies have been logging the Penan's forests for over twenty years and have been granted licences to convert large tracts of the Penan's lands into oil palm and acacia plantations. The Penan have continuously resisted the companies' operations, and the companies were only able to gain access to their lands after armed police broke up a road block and arrested dozens of villagers back in the late 1980s.
While logging has depleted the communities' forests to an extent that has caused a timber shortage at local level, the Penan fear that the conversion of their lands into plantations will permanently deprive them of their natural resources.
Until recently, the Penan have been living in the rainforests of Borneo as South-East Asia's last nomadic hunter-gatherers. Most of them have settled in villages but still depend on the forest for their livelihood.
The Sarawak government refuses to recognize the Penan's land rights and even chose to ignore a call by the Malaysian human rights commission, SUHAKAM, to recognize the Penan's land claims.
Due to the large number of land conflicts between indigenous communities and the government, a coalition of Malaysian indigenous rights organizations has recently called for a moratorium on new plantations.
(24 August 2009)
Sources and further information on the blockades:
- BRIMAS website: brimas.www1.50megs.com
- Sahabat Alam Malaysia: www.foe-malaysia.org
- AFP report: www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gC9ocrnNCQH_mjxYVgwQBarIH3nw
- The Borneo Post report: www.theborneopost.com/?p=56990
(Note: The Borneo Post is owned by KTS, one of the logging companies against whom the Penan are protesting)