(MIRI / SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) The timber company Samling has been encroaching into the area earmarked for the conservation zone of the Upper Baram Forest Area (also known as Baram Peace Park) in Northern Sarawak. Assistant Headman Suya Ara of Long Ajeng, one of the Penan communities currently affected, is alarmed and sending an alert to the government: “We want to be the eyes and years of the government and warn them of the ongoing logging activities in our area. If there is any encroachment, I will always report it to government. The government and the police have to take action to protect the Upper Baram Forest Area from timber extraction.”
Assistant Headman Suya Ara of Long Ajeng, accompanied by Headman Jawa Nyipa of Long Ajeng and Headman Balang Toi of Long Lamam, came to Miri to lodge a police report about the logging activities on Friday, 5th of March. They are now sending letters to the Forest Department Sarawak and Sarawak Forestry Corporation to inform them about the logging activities and urge them to act. The delegation also consulted their lawyer Roland Engan who demands immediate action: “The Forest Department should start its investigation as soon as possible. The headmen and communities were not consulted prior to the encroachment.”
Samling did not inform the community about their logging activities within the territory of Long Ajeng, Long Laman and Long Murung. Some villagers from Long Ajeng only found out about the logging when they went hunting and saw the bulldozers and the fresh skid trails. The logging is taking place in some of the last remaining primary forest in Sarawak. The communities in the area and the Sarawak Government have been working to establish the Upper Baram Forest Area in order to protect these sensitive forests. The area is furthermore an important historical site for the Penan, as it comprises old camp sites of the formerly nomadic groups in the area.
On February 7th and 9th, Assistant Headman Suya Ara and other villagers confronted Samling workers, including the foreman, about the logging in their territory. Suya Ara is asking: “Why is Samling taking advantage of the current MCO to log in our area? It is easy for them to steal logs and encroach into the area during that time because nobody is allowed to go out. But they violate the current rules of restricted movement during the pandemic. It is difficult and dangerous for us at the moment to travel to town to lodge a police report.”
Samling is about to apply for certification under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) for the Suling-Sela’an FMU, including the area of Long Ajeng, Long Murung, and Long Lamam. The MTCS standard guarantees no logging on indigenous territories without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). The community of Long Ajeng as well as their neighbouring villages have repeatedly expressed to Samling that they do not agree to logging in their area. The complete absence of community consultations prior to the current logging in the forest of Long Ajeng questions Samling’s commitment and ability to follow sustainable standards.
As Samling has failed to properly consult communities, obtain FPIC, provide transparent information, and follow MTCS standards during the certification of the Gerenai and Ravenscourt FMUs, communities in the area are questioning the company’s commitment to following sustainable standards, and instead wonder whether the company simply wants to check boxes to appear sustainable to the international community.