Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Penan blockade: Samling under pressure

Penan blockade: Samling under pressure
Sep 12, 07 12:16pm

'Resolve the land conflict with blockading Penan communities by November 2007 or we’ll revoke your certification of 56,000 hectares of tropical forest in the Upper Baram region of Sarawak.'

This was the clear message sent by the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) to logging giant Samling recently.

MTCC chief executive officer Chew Lye Teng has told Samling to negotiate with the Penan community currently defending one of Sarawak's last remaining tracts of primeval rainforest against the loggers.

“If Samling fails to resolve the issue by November the council could revoke the company's certificate of sustainable management,” Chew was quoted by AP.

According to the CEO, the council's order was based on a survey earlier this year by an independent inspection company.

Swiss-based rainforest NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) in a statement welcomed MTCC’s overdue clarification made after two years of intensive campaigning by the Penan communities, and Malaysian and international NGOs.

BMF director Dr Lukas Straumann said the council has realised that its loss of credibility outweighs the gains from the cooperation with Samling.

“We now expect Samling to immediately stop the road construction to Long Lellang and cease all logging activities both in the contested Penan areas and the few remaining primeval forests of Sarawak,” he said.

The council’s decision is an important campaign victory for Penan headman Saun Bujang (right) of Long Benali whose community has maintained the blockade of a Samling logging road for more than three years.

In July 2006, the blockade was dismantled by local police units but the Penans re-erected them several times.

Second blow

In 2007, Malaysian security forces set up a permanent camp close to the blockade site within the MTCC-certified Samling concession.

The local communities reported several incidents of intimidation by the police officers such as shots in the air and verbal threats.

According to the community, the Samling road construction has almost reached their village in the last weeks.

MTCC’s ultimatum is the second major blow for Samling after the company lost its Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) certification of 570,000 hectares of tropical forest in Guyana in Jan 2007.

The audit found that the Samling subsidiary 'could not demonstrate compliance with FSC certification requirements' due to 'systematic major nonconformities'.

Criticism of the Sarawakian company includes its dealings with the local indigenous communities, its environmental performance and its failure to comply with basic health and safety requirements for the company workers.