Save Rivers Network Sarawak warns that the construction of the Baram dam is going to be a very explosive and messy issue if the State government of Sarawak disregards the rights of the native communities, said its chairperson Peter Kallang.
The warning was issued following an ultimatum given by the director of forests that the native customary rights (NCR) landowners of Long Keseh and Na’ah must dismantle the blockade at KM15 Long Keseh, Baram
It was erected to resist the construction of the dam.
The natives have been given 14 days to dismantle it. The director in his letter accused them of ‘contravening’ the forest ordinance.
The ultimatum ends on Monday. However it does not mention what would happen to the NCR landowners at the end of the ultimatum, which was issued apparently after Chief Minister Adenan Satem said that the construction of the dam was to proceed despite protests from the Baram communities. The landowners are prepared for the worst, said Peter (right), adding: “I can tell you the NCR landowners expect to be arrested. But they will not be cowed by this ultimatum, and they are prepared to defend their rights over the land.
“If the landowners are arrested, it is going to be a very explosive issue,” he warned, pointing out that Suhakam (Malaysian Human Right commission) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are monitoring developments closely.
Peter said that the landowners had lodged a police report at the Miri Central Police Station on Friday and had lodged another report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) yesterday as they believed that the logging activities carried out on the access road and site of the proposed Baram dam, are illegal.
“The basis of their claim is that the documents for the timber licence show that it was one of the preparatory works for the proposed Baram dam. All the affected lands are Native Customary Right lands within the boundaries of the two villages.”
Peter said that the landowners had referred the ultimatum letter to their lawyers.
'Laws being contravened'
In their reports, the villagers held that logging activities are being carried out in contravention of a number of laws and guidelines.
They are also apprehensive that there could be corruption or even abuse of power.
One of the complainants, Jok Wan from Na’ah, wants the police and MACC to carry out an immediate investigation into their claims.
“Logging activities must stop immediately and that the perpetrators must respect our rights as landowners,” he said.
Jok Eng from Long Keseh said: “Our rights to that NCR land were established long before the issuance of the timber licences to the logging company and are still valid until today. “These rights were handed down to us by our ancestors. So our blockade to stop any intrusion is our prerogative and responsibility. We are not doing anything which is illegal.”
Commenting on the same issue, Philip Jau (left), the Chairperson of the Baram Protection Action Committee said: “Logging as done by the said companies and the construction of access road to the proposed dam site is a prescribed activity for which an Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIA) must be carried out.
“Once done, the EIA should be displayed for public comment and input. Only after that can it be endorsed by the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB). That requirement has been left out,” he said.
The construction of the RM4 billion dam has been given the ‘go ahead’ by the state government following a recent high level meeting chaired by the chief minister.
Once completed it is expected to submerge 38,900 hectares of land and 26 longhouses and villages. Some 20,000 native people need to be relocated elsewhere.
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