Thursday, 7 August 2008

SAM wants high-level probe into land grab claims

Thursday August 7, 2008 - The Star

SAM wants high-level probe into land grab claims

KUALA LUMPUR: Sahabat Alam Malaysia has called for a Commission of Inquiry to probe the logging and plantation industry in Sarawak.

Hundreds of families from villages in Bintulu had been forcibly evicted by the authorities in the past year, it claims.

SAM council member Mohideen Abdul Kader said the Forestry Department and Land and Survey Department had issued licences to convert the land and forests in the area to plantations without obtaining the consent of the communities who have native customary rights (NCR).

Glyn Ingang, 32, from Kampung Mejau in Tatau, said they were only offered compensation of RM250 per hectare and they had not agreed to give up their land.

“There are 80 families in my village, and the concessionaires or the contractors just come in to demolish our longhouses and evict us,” he said.
“My ancestors have been living here for hundreds of years, long before Malaysia was formed.”

Bagong Swee, 49, from Kampung Sebungan in Sebauk, said the rubber trees which were cultivated by the locals were chopped down by hired workers, leaving them with no sources of income.

“They even polluted our river, and we can’t even use it to bathe as our skin will get itchy. Now, we only drink rainwater,” he said, adding that more than 250 families were affected.

Swee said the concessionaires had started an oil palm plantation on the land, and the villagers might have to resort to “harvesting” their oil palm to survive.

Marai Sengok, 27, from Kampung Binyo, said besides tearing down their longhouses and food storage huts, the workers had also destroyed their crops with pesticides.

“We could only stand and watch as they tore down our homes, as they are always accompanied by armed policemen,” he said.

“Sarawak must accord full recognition to NCR – both for cultivated and forest areas. The encroachment into NCR land must stop,” he said.
Sengok said it was disturbing that the Sarawak Forestry Department itself was the proponent for one of the projects involving 490,000ha of land.

He claimed the department had licensed 2.8 million heactares of largely forest land to 40 plantation concessions, mainly for planting oil palm and pulpwood trees, since 1997.