Thursday, 18 June 2009

Anti-deforestation campaign launched in Mulu

Anti-deforestation campaign launched in Mulu

Tony Thien | Jun 18, 09

Some 1,000-strong Berawan people - a native group of Sarawak - in Mulu, are up against a government and private sector joint venture company which is threatening to destroy thousands of hectares of native customary rights land (NCR).

The area is located in Baram in northern Sarawak and is said to be earmarked for deforestation and conversion into oil palm plantations.

Those opposed to the project have formed an action committee and are planning to derail the signing of an agreement between the company, Pusaka KTS Plantations Sdn Bhd, and what a spokesperson for the action committee called "the representatives of Kampung Long Terawan", scheduled for Saturday.

"The vast majority of the people of Kampung Long Terawan do not agree with the offer made by Pusaka KTS," the action committee spokesperson Willie Kajan (left), told Malaysiakini by phone from Mulu in upper Baram.

According to 52-year-old Kajan, who has been an independent nature and adventure tourist guide from Long Terawan, several hundred people will stage a demonstration against the signing of the agreement this weekend.

"We want to make it very clear we are not happy at all and are not prepared to be hoodwinked and cheated like others," he said.

He said that notices have been sent to the company about their objection to the agreement.

Reps not representative

"How can you appoint the ketua kampong (Edmund Abang) and a few people to represent the community on a matter of such great importance?" he asked.

Kajan said the majority of the Berawan community are against both the project and the terms and conditions of the proposed agreement.

He said that the experiences of other native groups affected in Tubau, Batu Blah and Long Panai where similar projects have been launched involving the same have served as a lesson to the Berawan peoples.

"We do not want to be cheated of our only valuable land and we do not want this to happen to us," he added.

According to Kajan (left), he had distributed pamphlets against the project and the proposed agreement listing the various grounds to the police and district officer in Marudi and would also hand over the pamphlets to the residents and Pusaka KTS in Miri town.

Pusaka KTS, a joint venture between timber-based conglomerate KTS Group of Companies and the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), was formerly known as KTS Forest Plantations Sdn Bhd that was incorporated in 1996.

Its nature of business is reforestation and oil palm plantations and is involved in large-scale reforestation and oil palm plantation activities in the northern Sarawak region.

'Reforestation' is a term used by the timber industry to describe the clearing of virgin jungles for the planting of trees which will be later harvested for their timber.

Kajan told Malaysiakini that the action committee has been formed by longhouses in Apoh Tutoh affected by Pusaka KTS to take action against the company.

The committee comprises the ketua kaum (village chief), ketua masyarakat (community chief) and politicians who have sided with the company.

"This action committee will launch an all-out campaign against Pusaka KTS at the state, national and international levels," he added.

"We are launching a campaign on three issues, namely asking for the immediate gazetting of our NCR land based on our respective longhouse communal boundary, action against Pusaka KTS and against a proposed hydro-dam in the Baram area," Kajan said.

He said the committee hoped that everyone concerned in the Baram area will join in the campaign.

"The problem with their divide and rule policy is they divide their own family! Then they rule over those smaller divisions. With money you can buy a position, but certainly not respect," said an angry Kajan.

A company search reveals that Pusaka KTS has an authorised capital of RM25 million in which in which Sarawak KTS Forest Plantation Development Corporation has a total paid-up share of RM3.6 million and KTS Holdings Sdn Bhd has total paid-up shares of RM8.4 million shares.

This article was originally published with photos and a map.