Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing has accused non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of using Penan children as part of the crowd at blockades protesting the Murum dam impoundment.

"The NGOs are exploiting the Penan children present at the blockades, taking photographs of them and distributing the photographs overseas in order to gain support and sympathy from the international community," Masing said.

He added that these children carried on the backs of their mothers back do not know anything, as they are too small.
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"Why bring them to the sites of the blockades if not for the purpose of exploiting them to be used against the state government of Sarawak," said Masing (left) in an interview with RTM's Iban section last night.

Masing accused the NGOs of having their own agenda , pointing out that they must appear to be working to ensure continued support from their sponsors.

He advised the Penan not to be fooled by NGOs and to return home and take advantage of the government offer to be resettled in Tegulang and Metalun.

"In Tegulang and Metalun, the government will teach them to plant cash crops so that they will not depend on the government for a living.

"We cannot give them fish all the time, but what we will do is to teach them to fish. In this respect they will live a normal life," he said.

On the arrest of Ngang Buling, a Penan leader, Masing explained that he was alleged to have breached the law.

"I say it again that no one is above the law. If I am breaking the law, the police will also arrest me," he said, urging the NGOs not to encourage the Penan to commit crimes.

Although Masing did not name the NGOs, he is believed to be referring to Save Rivers Sarawak Network (Save Rivers), Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (Brimas), Sarawak Conservation Alliance National Environment (SCANE), Sarawak Natives Customary Land Rights Network (Tahabas), Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia Network (JAOS) and Baram Protection Action Committee (BPAC).

These NGOs have been expressing concern over the welfare and the rights of the natives, especially the Penan.

Meanwhile, Save Rivers secretary Mark Bujang called on Masing to find out why the Penan brought their children to the blockade sites.

"Masing should go to the ground and find out the real reasons, rather than accuse NGOs of exploiting the Penan children.
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"Who is going to look after their children if they are left behind, and when their safety is at stake, especially with the water level of Murum River rising very fast from the rainy season and the impoundment of the Murum dam?

"Moreover, where are they going to go when the resettlement sites are not ready for them to be relocated?" Mark (right) asked.

"Certainly, the Penan will bring along their small children because they think their children are safer at the blockade sites," he said.

He stressed the NGOs have nothing to do with the presence of the children.
"We have no power to stop them from bringing their children. "Of course we are highlighting the issue," admitted Mark, who is also the executive director of Brimas.

~ Malaysiakini