KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — Sarawak PKR chairman Baru Bian (pic) said today he was prepared to present evidence of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land grabs by the state government during a public debate.
Bian said he thanked the Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud for his willingness to accept the debate challenge and asked for it to be held as early as next week.
“As for the Chief Minister’s request for proof and evidence, we would like to inform him that our evidence is ready. The evidence cannot be revealed now or else there would not be a need for a debate,” said Bian in a statement.
“However, we are happy to draw his attention to the overwhelming mountain of evidence already submitted in court for over 200 NCR cases still pending to date which the Attorney-General is fully aware of.
“We will also be bringing additional supplementary evidence on top of the evidence already submitted in court to the debate to further support our case about natives’ loss of NCR lands and that this is not an old issue,” he added.
Bian had originally issued the challenge last Saturday for a debate with the government on NCR land seizure allegations.
Taib who has been in power for 30 years, however, said yesterday that he was only willing to debate if Bian could offer evidence of the land grabs.
His willingness to debate on NCR land comes just five months before government’s mandate expires.
“We hope the Chief Minister is not pretending to be ignorant of the evidence as an excuse to avoid or evade the debate,” said Bian.
He also repeated the party’s stand for the state government to withdraw all its cases against the natives over the NCR land grab.
“Our response is loud and clear; withdraw all government appeals against NCR cases won by the natives immediately,” said Bian.
“The courts have decided in favour of NCR landowners but the government still insists on appealing against these cases,” he added.
A lawyer by profession, Bian has been representing Sarawak natives in their attempt to stop the state government from acquiring their NCR land.
In September last year, the Kuching High Court ruled in favour of residents in seven longhouses in rural Sarawak who were about to be evicted from their land to accommodate the government’s plans to declare some 27,500 hectares of land in Ulu Sebuyau as a national park.
Early this month, the Court of Appeal ruled against a timber company, the Forestry Department and the Sarawak government for encroaching into land classified as the Penans’ NCR.
The NCR was enshrined in the Sarawak Land Code 1958, which recognises the natives’ collective ownership of land around their settlements for agriculture and hunting purposes.