Saturday, 12 July 2008

Villagers take to the barricade

2008/07/01 New Straits Times

Villagers take to the barricade

By : Dennis Wong

SIMUNJAN: More than 300 villagers yesterday turned up at a barricade near Kampung Sungai Raya to lend their support over a native customary rights (NCR) land dispute with a plantation company.

The barricade, which had been put up since last Thursday was to prevent the plantation workers from encroaching on their land.

The villagers from Kampung Temiang, Sg Raya, Keniong, Tembun and Lingkau had been camping at the site since the barricade was put up.Kampung Temiang village elder, Dungau Katit, 63, told the New Straits Times that 15 men had been guarding the barrier on 12-hour shifts to make sure that none of the plantation workers encroach onto their land.

"We have been toiling on the land for generations. Now, these plantation companies just come and destroy all our fruit and rubber trees, and pepper plantations.

"The headhunting era is now long gone and we do not want any trouble with the plantation companies. We'll let the law settle this," said Dungau, adding that the villagers had sought legal assistance to solve the dispute.

The land, covering an estimated 9,880ha, falls within the boundary of the five villages which are believed to be more than 200 years old.Since the barrier was put up, none of the plantation company officials had been sighted in the area.

They also had not approached the villagers to negotiate the matter. Landowner Maing Jawa, 57, claimed that the plantation company had offered a ridiculous sum in compensation which was not commensurate with the effort put in by the villagers when they developed their ancestral land.

"They offered us RM150 for the land and RM1 for every tonne of trees cut down. This doesn't make sense at all."If they don't believe that we have been here longer than them, we still have the land ownership documents signed by Queen Elizabeth," said Maing.Another villager, Stimba Beti, 56, said the sum offered as compensation was much less than what they could get from their rubber trees.

"We can earn as much as RM1,000 a week just from our rubber trees, and RM10,000 a year from our pepper plantations. We earn even more during the durian and rambutan seasons," he said.Sarawak Internal Security and Public Order chief Superintendent Najmi Mustaffa said they had deployed General Operations Force personnel to monitor the situation at the site.

"Our job is to monitor the situation and to make sure that it does not deteriorate. "We leave the land dispute to the state government and the district office."We hope the villagers will not take the law into their own hands and let the negotiation takes its course," said Najmi.Attempts to get the plantation company's reaction were futile as its workers had been barred from issuing any statements by the management.