What Rainforest?

Penan Blockades In Baram
August 24, 2009, 3:30 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm, Press Release, Pulp & Paper

Penan tribespeople with spears man a blockade as plantation company vehicles approach in Long Nen in Sarawak State

Penan tribespeople with spears man a blockade as plantation company vehicles approach in Long Nen in Sarawak State

AFP photo

A last ditch effort to save whatever forests is left is underway in the Baram region in Sarawak. Penans of Long Belok, Long Bangan, and Long Nen has setup blockades to prevent companies that include Samling, Rimbunan Hijau, Shin Yang, and KTS from further converting heavily logged forest into oil palm and acacia plantations.

Below are 2 reports by the Agence French Presse (AFP) and the Borneo Post with the latter accusing the AFP journalists of being ‘foreigners’ ‘instigating’ the Penans. This is then followed by BRIMAS’ press release in response to the Borneo Post article.

Read them all to watch the media circus performed by the Borneo Post (and what I think is the most amusing nut graph in journalistic history). Its a little long, but the tragedy (which is sometimes humourous) is well worth it.

Malaysia’s Penan tribe ups anti-logging campaign
By Sarah Stewart (AFP)
23 August 2009

LONG BELOK, Malaysia — Hundreds of Penan tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have set up new blockades deep in the Borneo jungles, escalating their campaign against logging and palm oil plantations.

Three new barricades, guarded by Penan men and women who challenged approaching timber trucks, have been established in recent days. There are now seven in the interior of Malaysia’s Sarawak state.

“They are staging this protest now because most of their land is already gone, destroyed by logging and grabbed by the plantation companies,” said Jok Jau Evong from Friends of the Earth in Sarawak.

“This is the last chance for them to protect their territory. If they don’t succeed, there will be no life for them, no chance for them to survive.”

Penan chiefs said that after enduring decades of logging which has decimated the jungles they rely on for food and shelter, they now face the new threat of clear-felling to make way for crops of palm oil and planted timber.

“Since these companies came in, life has been very hard for us. Before it was easy to find animals in the forest and hunt them with blowpipes,” said Alah Beling, headman of Long Belok where one of the barricades has been built.

“The forest was once our supermarket, but now it’s hard to find food, the wild boar have gone,” he said in his settlement, a scenic cluster of wooden dwellings home to 298 people and reachable only by a long suspension bridge.

Alah Beling said he fears that plans to establish plantations for palm oil — which is used in food and for biofuel — on their ancestral territory, will threaten their lifestyle and further pollute the village river with pesticide run-off.

“Once our river was so clear you could see fish swimming six feet deep,” he said as he gestured at the waterway, which like most others in the region has been turned reddish-brown by the soil that cascades from eroded hillsides.

Indigenous rights group Survival International said the blockades are the most extensive since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Penan’s campaign to protect their forests shot to world attention.

“It’s amazing they’re still struggling on after all these years, more than 20 years after they began to try to fight off these powerful companies,” said Miriam Ross from the London-based group.

Official figures say there are more than 16,000 Penan in Sarawak, including about 300 who still roam the jungle and are among the last truly nomadic people on Earth.

The blockades, which Friends of the Earth said involve 13 Penan communities home to up to 3,000 people, are aimed at several Malaysian timber and plantation companies including Samling, KTS, Shin Yang and Rimbunan Hijau.

After clearing much of the valuable timber from Sarawak, a vast state which lies on Malaysia’s half of Borneo island, some of these companies are now converting their logging concessions into palm oil and acacia plantations.

“They told us earlier this month they were coming to plant palm oil, and I said if you do we will blockade,” said Alah Beling.

“They told us we don’t have any rights to the land, that they have the licence to plant here. I felt very angry — how can they say we have no right to this land where our ancestors have lived for generations?”

Even on land that has been logged in the past, Penan can still forage for sago which is their staple food, medicinal plants, and rattan and precious aromatic woods which are sold to buy essential goods.

“Oil palm is worse because nothing is left. If they take all our land, we will not be able to survive,” the Long Belok headman said.

Sarawak’s Rural Development Minister James Masing admitted some logging companies had behaved badly and “caused extensive damage” but said the Penan were “good storytellers” and their claims should be treated with caution.

“The Penan are the darlings of the West, they can’t do any wrong in the eyes of the West,” he said.

Masing said disputes were often aimed at wringing more compensation from companies, or stemmed from conflicts between Penan and other indigenous tribes including the Kenyah and Kayan about overlapping territorial claims.

He said the current surge in plantation activity was triggered by Sarawak’s goal to double its palm oil coverage to 1.0 million hectares (2.47 million acres) — an area 14 times bigger than Singapore.

“The time we have been given to do this is running short. 2010 is next year so we want to make that target and that is why there may be a push to do it now, to fulfil our goal established 10 years ago,” he said.

“In some areas the logging has not been done in accordance with the rules and some of the loggers have caused extensive damage. That does happen and I do sympathise with the Penan along those lines,” he said.

“But the forest has become a source of income for the state government so we have to exploit it”.

Driving through the unsealed roads that reach deep into the Borneo interior, evidence of the new activity is clear with whole valleys stripped of vegetation and crude terraces carved into the hills ready for seedlings.

Most of the companies declined to comment on the allegations made by the Penan, but Samling said it “regrets to learn about the blockades”.

“We have long worked with communities in areas we operate to ensure they lead better lives,” it said in a statement.

Its website says its acacia timber plantations in Sarawak will “enhance the health of the forests” and that it uses “only the most sensitive ways to clear the land”.

The Penan allegations could discredit Malaysia?s claims that it produces sustainable palm oil, particularly in Europe and the US where activists blame the industry for deforestation and driving orangutans towards extinction.

Indigenous campaigners say that past blockades have seen violence and arrests against tribespeople, but village chiefs — some of whom were detained during the 1980s blockades — said they did not fear retribution.

“We’re not afraid. They’re the ones destroying my property. Last time we didn’t know the law and now to protect ourselves, but now we know our rights,” said Ngau Luin, the chief of Long Nen where another barricade was set up.

An AFP team reporting at the blockades was photographed by angry timber company officials, and later intercepted at a roadblock by police armed with machineguns and taken away for questioning.

The plight of the Penan was made famous in the 1980s by environmental activist Bruno Manser, who waged a crusade to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers. He vanished in 2000 — many suspect foul play.

Copyright © 2009 AF

Foreign hands in blockades
from the Borneo Post
22 August 2009

Foreigners caught on camera mingling with and instigating Penans at Long Nen and Long Bangan blockades

MIRI: It’s confirmed! Foreigners are behind many of the blockades set up by Penans in timber camps in the state.

It has long been suspected that many foreign environmentalists and socalled conservationists had been instigating and encouraging the natives to erect blockades and disrupt logging activities, though they had always denied their involvement.

But yesterday four foreigners, including two women, were seen among protesters manning blockades in Ulu Baram.

This contradicts claims by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that foreigners have never meddled in the internal affairs of the state.

The foreign nationals, believed to be an Australian, an Indian and two Dutch women, were seen at an access road at Long Bangan and Long Nen in Ulu Baram, orchestrating the protesters with signboards for pictures to be taken.

They were also seen mingling freely among the natives and giving out instructions.

The blockade at Long Nen erected about 6am was followed by another blockade about 2pm at Long Bangan, with the foreign nationals present at both places in an apparently coordinated arrangement and timing.

The wooden blockade structures were simple but the message was clear as the camps set up at the respective sites were manned by Penan men, women and children with the aim of disrupting logging and reforestation activities in the area.

Three major logging companies are operating in the area.

A logging camp manager yesterday lodged a report at the Long Lama police station about the activities of the four foreigners.

The report said they were seen together with the natives at the blockade sites.

Marudi police chief DSP Jonathan Jalin, when contacted, said police were aware of a few foreigners at the blockade sites.

He said the authorities were interested in finding out what their roles were in these blockades.

“They were also seen with the Penans in Long Lama and we are interested to find out who they are and what they are doing in the jungle with the Penans,” he said.

The protesters yesterday handed an unsigned written list of demands and notice to stop all lorries from passing through to a logging camp manager, to the foreigners and two journalists from The Borneo Post and See Hua Daily News who were at the scene. The group also handed out copies of a news clipping on about 3,000 Penans in Belaga facing starvation due to crop failure as claimed by Deputy Minister of Rural and Regional Development Datuk Joseph Entulu recently.

Entulu in that newspaper report claimed that the crop failure was due to attack by beasts from the jungle on their farms and this had happened in five out of six settlements while Minister of Land Development Dato Sri Dr James Masing attributed it to logging activities which rendered wild sago and wild games scarce.

Meanwhile, Long Bangan headman Unga Paren, when asked if foreigners were involved in the blockade, denied it, saying the blockades were all the work of the locals.

He admitted the presence of the foreigners at the Long Bangan blockade on Thursday, but claimed “they are tourists who left after a few minutes”, adding that he had no power to stop people from coming to the village.

“The blockade can only be removed after all the demands have been met,” said Unga.

He insisted that the villagers protested in a peaceful manner, but he did not deny that there might be people using the blockades to their advantage as many of them had video and digital cameras worth thousands of ringgit, complete with camera stands, manned by local Penans.

Unga said the locals resorted to setting up the blockades because of the decreasing jungle produce caused by logging activities and the failure to give approval for a Penan ‘forest reserve’.

However, the logging camp manager who lodged the police report yesterday, refuted Unga’s claims that the government had reneged on the ‘forest reserve’ proposal. “The timber camps operating in the area had allocated a large area of forest for the Penans to roam,” he said.

The headman said Long Bangan had a population of 400. Of the number, 20 (children) are studying in SK Long Bedian. Very few entered secondary schools. Most of those who did dropped out in Form 2 or 3. The most educated ones among them only completed Form 4.

The villagers are mostly farmers planting padi, maize, tapioca, banana and yams. They used to plant sago, which was introduced by the Agriculture Department many years ago, but they have all been felled. Unga claimed that getting medical attention was a problem for them as the ‘nearest’ clinics were miles away in Long Bedian or Long Kevok.

He also wanted the Flying Doctor Service to resume, saying it was much needed in the area, and hoped that the issue could be resolved soon.

22 August 2009

Foreign journalist labelled as instigators of Penan blockades

MIRI – Four foreign journalists were labelled as instigators by a local newspaper, the Borneo Post, for allegedly encouraging two Penan villages in Tutoh, Baram District, Sarawak for erecting blockades and disrupting the logging activities by logging companies in the area.

The Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (BRIMAS) learnt that the journalists were from the Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Kuala Lumpur and they were there doing interviews with the Penans in the Apoh-Tutoh areas of the Baram region.

At the time the two blockades were erected at Long Nen and Long Bangan, these journalists were coincidently there doing the said interviews.

However, the Borneo Post published a front page article headline ‘Foreign hands in blockades’ on 22 August edition and confirmed that foreigners were behind the many blockades set up by the Penans in timber camps throughout the state.

BRIMAS wishes to state the facts that the Penans from Long Nen and Long Bangan are not happy with Pusaka-KTS (PKTS) Forest Plantation Sdn. Bhd. for establishing an acacia and eucalyptus plantation within their native customary rights (NCR) land.

PKTS never obtained the villagers’ free, prior and informed consent when they wanted to establish the plantation and instead ignored the pleas and protests from the Penans which rejected the plantation.

It must be also pointed out that section 65B of the Sarawak Forest Ordinance Cap. 126 requires prior consent of NCR landowners before a Licence for Planted Forest (LPF) could be issued over the land.

As a result of PKTS non-compliance with the Forest Ordinance and disregarding the NCR of the Penans, these two villages decided to take direct action by erecting blockades to stop PKTS from further encroachment into their native customary land. It is through their own initiative that the Penans decided to erect the blockades and not orchestrated by foreigners as allege by the Borneo Post.

There are at least 20 other villages in and around Apoh-Tutoh, Baram region which are also affected by PKTS plantation. According to Friends of the Earth Report in 2008, the total area of PKTS plantation area in Apoh-Tutoh is approximately 90,427 hectares.

BRIMAS would like to urge PKTS and the Sarawak State Government recognise and respect the NCR of the Penans to their lands and forest resources. If PKTS’ LPF are overlapping over the NCR of the Penans and other native communities, then the state government should withdraw the LPF immediately.

BRIMAS also demands that PKTS stop all its clear-cutting activities on forested areas as this will further increase the rate of deforestation in Sarawak and undermining the biodiversity of the state.

The planting of exotic fast growing tree species like acacia and eucalyptus would only degrade the land further as these two species of trees are known to extract a lot of nutrients from the soil rapidly and render the soil infertile. Worst still, these trees are a fire hazard especially during the dry season as their leaves are quite flammable when dried due to the nature of the tree which needs heat to propagate it seeds.

PKTS is a joint venture company between the Sarawak Timber Industrial Development Corporation, also known as Pusaka, a state government agency and KTS Holdings Sdn. Bhd., a timber company based in Sibu, which also owns Borneo Post.

Statement issued by:
Mark Bujang
Executive Director, BRIMAS


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

Good job Brimas!

Comment by Wendell

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