The Sarawak government is jittery over the decision of the Court of Appeal which last Friday upheld the decision of the High Court thatpemakai menua (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest) are part of native customary rights (NCR) land.

This decison affects thousands of hectares that have been planted with oil palm or under reforestation, which have to be returned to NCR landowners.

NONESeveral big oil palm companies have invested hundreds of millions of ringgit on these lands which the government said belonged to the state.

"The decision of the Court of Appeal was unanimous and will have much bearing on some 200 more cases in the High Court.

"In fact some cases have been postponed waiting for the decision of the Court of Appeal on the case of Tuai Rumah Sandah Anak Tabau and his followers," said Baru Bian, who acted as a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

In the High Court, the plaintiffs had sued Kanowit Timber Company Sdn and the state government for encroachment into their NCR land, including their pemakai menoa and pulau galau vide a timber licence issued by the state to the company.

The defendants had argued that NCR should be restricted to thetemuda (secondary forest) covering an area of 2,712 hectares, which had been cleared before 1958.

However, Justice Yew Jen Kie ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, declaring that they were the rightful owners of the NCR land covering an area of 5,512 hectares, including the pemakai menoa, and that the defendants had unlawfully encroached into the plaintiffs' land.

Last Friday, the three-member Court of Appeal unanimously upheld this decision.

"I am quite sure the state government will appeal (to the Federal Court). It is up to the government as the decision of the Court of Appeal will have a lot of bearing on the pending cases.

"The decision of the Court of Appeal is giving more confidence to the natives to get justice done regarding the taking away of their land by the government.

"I believe that the government is really jittery as huge areas of land which the government called state land, is in fact are pemakai menua and pulau galau.

NONE"All these lands must be returned to the NCR landowners as ordered by the court," said Bian, who is also the Chairman of State PKR and State Assemblyman for Ba'Kelalan.
Bian said the government should adhere to the decision of the court.

"In future, it should not issue provisional leases on NCR land to oil palm companies without consulting and obtaining the consent of the natives.

"It should ask the people how long they have been in the area and how big is it," he said, pointing out that the biggest problem is that the government is advised by the attorney-general not to accept the decision of the court on pemakai menua and pulau galau.

"In view of this, I am going to furnish all the five decisions of the courts so far to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and all the state ministers.

"Let them read the decisions of the court, so that they will know that pemakai menua and pulau galau are part of NCR land," he said.

~ Malaysiakini