BY DESMOND DAVIDSON
Published: 7 August 2014
Natives protesting against the Baram dam and manning the blockade at Long Kesseh rest outside their quarters during a break in their watch. – The Malaysian Insider pic, August 7, 2014.
Natives protesting against the proposed Baram hydroelectric dam have begun to fortify their positions at the blockades they set up to thwart its construction as the deadline for them to leave the area lapsed on Sunday.
Despite rumours that "the police and forest officers are coming" to dismantle the blockades, the number of people manning it has reportedly increased tenfold from the usual 10 to more than 100.
“We are not in favour of violence but we will do all it takes to defend our land,” Peter Kallang, chairman of Save Sarawak Rivers Network, or known as Save Rivers, told The Malaysian Insider.
He said that anti-dam protestors at Long Kesseh, one of two blockades the natives had thrown up to thwart the proposed construction, had begun to “dig in” and “fortify” their positions.
“There is a lot of talk that the police and the forests officers are on their way to dismantle the blockade. So, naturally there's heightened anxiety.
“We are preparing for any eventualities. While we try to avoid confrontation and violence, all that will depend on what the police and forest officers do.
“One thing is for sure. We will definitely not dismantle the blockade and let people (staff of Sarawak Energy Bhd and their contractors) through to the site."
Sarawak director of forests Sapuan Ahmad had on July 21 sent a letter to the anti-dam protesters manning the blockade at KM15 in Long Keseh, giving them 14 days to leave the area.
In the letter, Sapuan warned that any blockade is in contravention of Section 90(B) of the Forest Ordinance and those found guilty of this could be fined up to RM6,000 or jailed up to two years or both.
But Long Kesseh folk, among the estimated 20,000 people who would be displaced by the dam, are increasingly defiant.
A resident, Jok Eng, said the blockade was to put a stop to intrusions on their land.
“We are not doing anything which is illegal. It is our prerogative and responsibility to protect our land.”
The blockade, set up on October 23, 2013, started off with one large log thrown across the road to stop all traffic to the proposed dam site.
Since then, it has grown more sophisticated with the protesters building a military-style barrack, complete with bathrooms and toilets for those manning the blockade.
There are also signs that the government is going ahead with the proposed 1,200 megawatts dam, despite the opposition.
A company has reportedly been given a licence to extract timber and clear the area of the proposed dam site.
Another anti-Baram dam NGO, the Baram Protection Action Committee, last Saturday got landowners in Long Kesseh and Long Na'ah, whose land are affected by the clearing work, to lodge a report against the company at the Miri central police station.
They also lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Philip Jau, chairman of the committee, said there was no environmental impact assessment study (EIA) was undertaken before clearing the forest.
The Baram dam is the latest in a series of controversial hydroelectric mega-dams the Sarawak government has planned to construct.
It is believed the dam is used to lure power-guzzling industries in search of cheap energy to turn Sarawak into an industrialised state by 2030.
Anti-dam protestors said the government planned to build not one but two such dams in Baram.
One of the dams could flood 400 square kilometres of rainforest and land these tribes people have lived on for centuries.
Sarawak plans to construct 12 such dams.
Only two dams have been built, the now operational 2,400-megawatt Bakun dam and the yet-to-be-operational Murum dam. – August 8, 2014.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/anti-dam-protesters-dig-in-at-blockades-as-leave-deadline-passes#sthash.i1InzydS.dpuf