Several Penan families who have refused to move out of Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Singu, Long Malim and Long Menapa in upstream areas of the Murum River are faced with twin threats to their safety following the impoundment of the Murum hydro-electric dam on Sept 23, 2013.
“The state government of Sarawak and its company Sarawak Electricity Berhad (SEB), the owner of Murum hydro-electric dam, could not be bothered with the safety of the Penans as they proceeded with the impoundment of the dam,” claimed Abun Sui Anyit (left), a human rights lawyer.
“With the fast-rising water level of the dam and Murum River, the safety of Penans is at stake and their livelihood threatened as their longhouses and villages, fruit trees and properties will soon be flooded and destroyed.
“And if they move to higher ground to avoid the rising water, they are threatened by wild animals and dangerous snakes,” said Abun.
“The Penans are therefore faced with the twin threats to their safety. But it appears that the state government and SEB could not be bothered about their plight and their safety,” he toldMalaysiakini.
“The Penans do not want to move out as their demands for compensation are yet to be discussed and agreed to. Secondly, the resettlement site at Metalun where they are supposed to be relocated is not ready.
“I don’t know why the SEB and the authorities are doing this to the Penans,” said Abun, who accompanied a group of Penans to lodge a police report in Miri against SEB yesterday.
“We are monitoring the situation as the water level at the reservoir and Murum River is fast rising,” he said, pointing out that the Penans are mulling legal action against the SEB and the government.
The impoundment of the RM4 billion dam is expected to take about 10 months for the water to reach optimal level in order to produce power, and will submerge some 24,000 hectares of the Penan heartland.
More than 1,500 Penans are forced to be relocated to Tegulang and Metalun.
‘We are protecting our heritage’
Meanwhile, Lugan Usang, a representative of Penans from Long Tangau, who also lodged a police report against SEB, toldMalaysiakini by phone that the SEB is lying to say that the Penans were instigated by outsiders to protest against the dam.
“Since the construction of the dam, we have been protesting against it and had even written protest letters. We are protecting our rights, our heritage, our livelihood, but SEB chooses to ignore our protests because it thinks that the Penans are stupid, weak and easily manipulated.
“SEB accuses outsiders of instigating us to go against the dam. That is not true,” said Lugan, pointing out that the Penans are capable of knowing their rights.
“We are very worried about the rising waters and it affects our daily lives,” he said.
Lugan also refuted claims that the Penans agreed to the construction of the dam, and if the authorities conducted a head count, they would find out that the majority of the Penans objected to the construction of the dam.
“The government and SEB are telling lies if they say we agree to the construction of Murum dam,” he added.
On the police report, Lugan said the objective was to urge the authorities to immediately put a stop to the impoundment as the Penans are very worried with their safety as the water level is rising very fast.
“Firstly, we are still living upstream, and our daily lives are greatly affected.
“Secondly, we do not want to move out as the values of our properties such as our land, our houses, our gardens, fruit trees, churches, and graves of our ancestors are yet to be assessed and compensation paid.
“Moreover, we don’t want our properties to be destroyed first as these are evidence of our rights and our existence,” he said, stressing that they will not move if their demands for compensation are not met.
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 10 percent royalty from SEB profits.
Lugan said that another reason why they did not want to move out was that the sites at Metalun where they were supposed to be relocated were yet to be developed.
“The government promised to build our longhouses, a school, and a clinic, and to plant fruit trees and crops so that we can continue with our livelihood.
“All these facilities are not yet built, so how can we survive at Metalun?” Lugan asked.
Meanwhile, the Penans are still mounting a blockade to stop SEB contractors and workers from going to the dam site.
Even the SEB chief executive officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit (right) who wanted to visit the dam site and tried to lift the blockade yesterday was chased out by the angry Penans who were at the blockade site.
They claimed that Sjotveit was arrogant in dealing with them at the blockade site and had no interest in negotiating with them over their demands.
The Penans chased him out. Had not the police personnel, who have been monitoring the situation in the blockade site for the past two weeks, interfered, an ugly incident could have happened.