Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sarawak land issues : Sticking out like a sore thumb

NEWS FOCUS SIBU - Land issues which had caused a lot of unhappiness in Kuching and Simujan last month had now shifted to Sarawak's central region where 13 Tuai Rumah have formed a committee to fight against a Sibu tycoon who was alleged to have bought over 6,000 hectares of their Native Customary Right (NCR) land in Daro.

Nine Tuai Rumah from Daro, a two-hour boat ride from Sibu had lodged police reports during the weekend while four went to the Sibu Central Police station Monday to lodge their reports against the company which was said to have encroached into their NCR lands at Block 12 Engkilo/Seradang Land District along Sg. Lengan Labaan, Pulau Lebaan, Daro.

The group was led by a Dayak who only wanted to be known as Robert. Robert said the Tuai Rumah were not interested in turning their NCR land into political issues but more interested in getting back what belonged to them. They claimed to have evidences of ownership to the land as they had with them documents of their land issued by the British government in 1942.

A protem committee - comprising David Majang as chairman, William Limbat vice chairman, Simon anak Amuta as secretary and Anthong Ijan as treasurer - has been set up to look into the possible settlement of land issue and campaign against oil palm plantation.

Robert said they had engaged a lawyer and wanted to seek a court injunction to stop the oil palm plantation company from working further on their lands.

Last weekend, the group had sought the help of Daro State Assemblyman Murni Suhaili and asked him to attend a dialogue session with them at Rumah Francis Kiai anak Pengarah. The 13 Tuai Rumah/Wakil Tuai Rumah gathered for the dialogue session were from Rh. Seli, Rh. Lanting, Rh. Igat, Rh. Leang, Rh. Guang, Rh. Francis Kiai, Rg, Jawa, Rh. Nyait, Rh. Kaming, Rh. Bungkok, Rh. Baying, Rh. Jinga, Rh. Jimmy and Rh. Sintan.

They were worried as heavy machinery was seen cutting roads and drainages construction geared for the plantation at Lebaan.

Murni who did not turn up at the dialogue session did not dampen the mood of the Tuai Rumah who themselves discussed on how best to deal with the matter. They then held up banners to protest the company from encroaching on their lands. After the protest, nine came to Sibu to lodge police reports.

A Tuai Rumah said their area at Pulau Lebaan was a low-lying flood prone area and should there be flooding, the fertilizers used at the oil palm plantation would cause pollution to their river which they used for drinking and washing. The kampungs there did not have piped water.

They were also worried of environmental hazard caused to the flora and fauna in the area as they obtained food which included bidin, paku, wild mushrooms, bamboo shoots, potatoes among other jungle produce.

The longhouse folk (right) claimed that the 6,000 hectares of their NCR land was sold to the company for RM2.3 million which was against their heritage right. A tuai rumah said if they cannot fight it alone, they would look for options to get back their lands.

Land has been a thorny issue in Sarawak, be it state land, private land or NCR land.

Just last month, 3000 acres of private land in Bako, Kuching, had been acquired by the State Government which caused a furor. The dust has barely settled. The land owners made a beeline to the Opposition and formed committees all over the states to protest over their lands which they claimed compensation from the Land and Survey was too minimal.

At Simujan, a timber camp was burned down and the operators alleged that it was from the villagers nearby who protested that the land was under NCR. The operator of the timber camp claimed to have a licence to operate and that losses was RM2 million.

The villagers were angry at the allegation and seven had been arrested and later released after being detained. The villagers claimed that they were at a roadblock four kilometres away from the camp which was on fire then.

PKR State chief, Baru Bian filed a suit for the villagers of Simujan against the timber camp in the Kuching High Court on Monday.

The requisition of land by those in power has been a sore point raised by the Opposition in the past. The ruling elite, however, has always insisted that they took over land for the purpose of development. The state today is under the second wave of development, if recent statement by the ruling government is to be believed.

The Opposition, in the meantime, has insisted that the requisition of land is always to the advantage not only to the current leadership, but also to enrich its cronies. Land of all classification have been taken over under the state questionable Land law under all sorts of guises, and was recently exposed by the Opposition that they have been given to family members and cronies of the ruling elite.

The indigenous people in the interior of Sarawak are no more content to accept their fate when their NCR land, which most of them have inherited through family ties, are being taken by the state. They are now more educated on the laws of the land, and with the support of NGOs.

The issue of NCR land is going to be a sore issue in the coming state elections, and many have seen it as a negative implication for a number of seats for the ruling state government.

Chris Reubens MM

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