KUCHING (Oct 24, 2012): The insistence of the Royal Army Engineers Regiment on constructing the Ba'Kelalan-Bario road through the Muda river catchment area, despite strong objections from the local communities, has raised suspicion about whether there is an ulterior motive behind the project.
"The local communities, in a series of dialogues with the army, have been saying that constructing the road through the catchment area will result in untold environmental damages and miseries to their padi fields, farmlands and livestock, but also to their source of clean water," Ba'Kelalan state assemblyman Baru Bian told reporters yesterday.
"They also presented the army with a map with a route they have drawn and should be followed to build the Ba'Kelalan-Bario road," he said when commenting on news reports that the army had put in place heavy machinery to build the road under its Jiwa Murni project.
He said they had proposed a Belingi-Lepo Bunga-Bario route, which will not affect the water catchment area.
"At a meeting with an army officer in charge of building the road, I told him of the objections from the local communities and presented to him an alternative route.
"I was full of hope with this meeting, but at the end of the day my meeting with the army officer came to nothing," Baru, who is also the Sarawak PKR chairman, said.
He said that Lawas MP Datuk Henry Sum Agong had also led a dialogue between the local communities and the army.
"I thought after this dialogue led by Agong, everything was resolved that the army would not build the road through the catchment area and against the wishes of the people," he said.
Baru suspected that there was an ulterior motive in constructing the road through the catchment area of Muda River.
He said that the catchment areas were rich in timber.
He said that he was informed a timber company operating in Baram was interested to harvest the timber.
Baru said he would support any move by the local communities to erect up blockade to stop the construction of the road as its route was not what they had proposed to the army.
"Moreover, the approved route is to pass through the native customary rights land, which has not been extinguished yet by the government, as required under the Sarawak Land Code," he said.
As such, he said the land still belonged to the local communities and that they have every right to stop anyone passing through their land.
He said that some 2,000 people from six villages were disturbed by the construction of the road passing through the catchment area.
They are the farmers who planted the famed Bario rice and reared large number of buffaloes, both constituting their main sources of income.
The villages which will be affected are Punan Kelalan, Long Muda, Long Kumap, Long Langai, Long Lemutut and Buduk and Sekolah Kebangsaan Ba'Kelalan.
In 1994, the villagers had to defend Muda river for the same reason, and they managed to halt a timber company from encroaching into the virgin jungle around the area.
Villager Paran Padan declared:"Muda river is our livelihood. If it is destroyed and polluted, what will we drink and how will our padi fields and livestock survive?
"Our padi fields and the jungle is our Lun Bawang legacy and we never want to lose it," he said.
"The jungle in Sungai Muda is extremely rich in 'meranti' and 'jati' trees, and the jungle produces `Rukan' wood which is heavily researched as a possible cure for cancer."
Construction of the RM42 million Ba' Kelalan-Bario road project started on last Oct 1 and is expected to be completed by Sept 2014.
A Bernama report, last month, quoting Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying that the Royal Army Engineers Regiment with its heavy machines was already in Ba' Kelalan.
Ahmad Zahid added that the project, under the Blue Ocean Strategy, was a continuation of the 'Jiwa Murni' project which saw the upgrading of a 75-kilometre road from Long Luping to Ba' Kelalan. That road was completed in September last year.