Police from Belaga fired shots into the air to stop more than 300 protesters who also wanted to be arrested after a protester, Ngang Buling, was arrested at their Murum dam blockade site at 10.10am today.

Save Sarawak Rivers Network chairperson Peter Kalang said after Ngang was arrested, some 300 others who were guarding the blockade rushed to the police personnel and demanded that they be arrested as well.

"The police feared some untoward incident might take place and fired shots into the air to stop the action of the protesters," Kalang said in a message to Malaysiakini.

NONEThe police took Ngang to the Belaga police station, where he is being detained. Three cars carrying protesters followed the police to the station.

News about the Penan blockade of the Murum dam has been dominating the front pages of local newspapers and news portals since Sept 23, when they began erecting blockades to stop contractors and workers of Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) from entering the dam site.

Several Penan families have refused to move out of Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Singu, Long Malim and Long Menapa on the upstream of the Murum River because the government refused to meet their demands for compensation.

Among the demands are RM500,000 per family for the loss of their properties, 25 hectares to be allocated to each family, 30,000 hectares of forested area be allocated for their hunting needs and a royalty payment of 10 percent a family from the SEB profits.

10 months to fill dam site with water

The SEB is expected to take about 10 months fill water to the optimal level in the RM4 billion dam in to order to produce electric power. This flooding will submerge some 24,000 hectares of the Penan heartland.

The Penan have lodged a police report against SEB for not informing them about it impounding the dam site to flood it, which they say will threaten their safety. 

More than 1,500 Penan have already been forced to relocate to Tegulang and Metalun.

Meanwhile, lawyer Baru Bian, who is prepared to act on behalf of the Penan, said police can arrest the protesters if they commit criminal offences.

"But if there are no threats and no grounds, the police should be prepared to be sued," said Bian, who is Sarawak PKR chief and Ba'Kelalan assemblyperson.

"I am closely monitoring the case," he added when asked about the arrest of Ngang.

~ Malaysiakini