Malaysian court halts Borneo rainforest village demolition
"An act of psychological warfare": Ruins of the Iban village of Sungai Sekabai (Picture: TAHABAS)
KUCHING / SARAWAK, EAST MALAYSIA. A local court in Sarawak’s state capital, Kuching, has ordered the Sarawak authorities to halt the demolition of a native village until a full trial is held on their pending court case on 9 February 2010.
Last week, Sarawak law enforcement staff had managed to demolish 39 houses of the Iban village of Sungai Sekabai, which is located 55 kilometres from the town of Bintulu. The demolition was carried out without prior notice being given to the local community and met with fierce resistance from the Iban natives.
One of the houses destroyed was that of native Iban leader Nor Nyawai, in what might be looked upon as an act of psychological warfare against a community that has continuously challenged Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s handling of the native rights issue. In 2001, headman Nor won a landmark court case which, for the first time, recognized native rights over primary rainforest. The Sarawak authorities submitted an appeal, but this later led to a far-reaching Malaysian Federal Court decision that confirmed the Sarawak native communities’ customary rights over their lands.
Representatives of the local communities reacted with relief to the court decision and announced that they would be continuing their struggle against the theft of their lands for plantation development by Tatau Land Sdn Bhf. According to the local news service, Bintulu.Org (www.bintulu.org), Tatau Land is a subsidiary of ASSAR, a state-owned investment holding company that is “directly under the care of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud”.
(27 January 2010)