Monday, 9 November 2009

Kenyahs fend off oil-palm company bulldozing land...for now

Published: Monday November 9, 2009

By STEPHEN THEN The Star, Malaysia

MIRI: Workers of an oil-palm company who bulldozed their way through land claimed by natives were forced to beat a retreat after angry residents threatened to use force to defend their land.

The dispute between the workers of a Miri-based development consortium and Kenyah natives in Long Koyan, Belaga district, central Sarawak, almost turned into a violent confrontation on Saturday, after three days of an intense stand-off.

“The affected villagers from an entire longhouse came out and confronted the workers on Saturday.

They had, over the past few days, appealed to the workers to stop the land-clearing works,” said Mark Bujang, executive director of community-rights watchdog group Borneo Resources Institute.

“Since last Thursday, the workers have been ploughing their bulldozers and excavators through farmland belonging to the Kenyah longhouse folks, to build an access road for a proposed oil-palm plantation,” he added.

“On Saturday, the longhouse folks lost their patience and confronted the workers en masse. They came out and made a united stand and blocked the bulldozers and excavators.

“Fearing for their safety, the workers retreated from the area,’’ he said.

Long Koyan is located some 550km south of Miri. Bujang said the institute had sent representatives to Long Koyan to monitor the situation.

The 500 Kenyah natives claimed that the area targeted for clearing was their customary rights land inherited from their ancestors, while the company claimed it was given the concession to develop the land by the state.

Long Koyan chief Tuai Rumah Nyalang Tahe, who has been arrested before for defending his land, claimed that affected villagers had lodged numerous reports against the company but the police had not investigated their complaints.

Bujang said it was not clear at the moment whether the company had withdrawn permanently or not.