One day before the one-year anniversary of two blockades against the Baram dam, fifty police officers and ten forest authorities arrived at one of the blockade sites, dismantling it. Hours later, the protestors had erected a new blockade and negotiated a three-day grace period. The indigenous protestors told the officers that the removal of the blockade was not legal, as the land had been claimed as native customary land belonging to nearby villages and continues to be under dispute.
Natives protesting against the proposed Baram hydroelectric dam in Sarawak claimed that authorities have dismantled their year-long blockade, forcing them to set up another one at the same site hours later in order to prevent the construction of the dam.
The blockade, set up at KM15 of Jalan Samling, Baram, was dismantled yesterday by about 50 police personnel from the General Operation Force (GOF), 10 Forestry Department officers and “a handful” of loggers from the logging company M.M. Golden and Autorich Sdn Bhd, the natives said.
The natives then confronted the men dismantling the blockade, to thwart them from entering the area.
“When we arrived at the site, we asked them who authorised them to dismantle the blockade, since the area is still under dispute and no court order was issued ordering us to lift our blockade,” said Johannes Luhat, one of the natives who is manning the Km15 blockade site, in a statement last night.
“One Forestry Department officer by the name of Asan Udau told us that we were breaking the law by setting up the barricade to stop the company from entering the site to extract the timber.
“We told the officer that the company is actually logging on native customary land belonging to the villages of Na’ah and Long Kesseh and doing it illegally as they have yet to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of the area, which was previously logged before. Furthermore, villagers from Na’ah and Long Kesseh are against the said logging activities.”
The natives also told the officer that they had previously lodged reports with the police and with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) against the illegal logging by the company in July but they have yet to receive any response from both agencies.
They managed to put up a new barricade at the same site and asked for a three-day grace period from the Forestry Department officer, who agreed to the deal.
“As of 4.30pm today (yesterday) the new barricade is still standing,” the statement read.
It was reported in August that the natives were fortifying their positions at the blockades following rumours that police and forestry officers were going to dismantle them, as the deadline for them to leave the area lapsed earlier.
The number of people manning it had reportedly increased from the usual 10 to more than 100.
Sarawak director of forests Sapuan Ahmad had on July 21 sent a letter to the anti-dam protesters manning the blockade at Km15 in Long Keseh, giving them 14 days to leave the area.
In the letter, Sapuan warned that any blockade is in contravention of Section 90(B) of the Forest Ordinance and those found guilty of this could be fined up to RM6,000 or jailed up to two years or both.
“We are not in favour of violence but we will do all it takes to defend our land,” Peter Kallang, chairman of Save Sarawak Rivers Network, or known as Save Rivers, told The Malaysian Insider previously.
He said that anti-dam protesters at Long Kesseh, one of two blockades the natives had set up to thwart the proposed construction, had begun to “dig in” and “fortify” their positions.
“There is a lot of talk that the police and the forests officers are on their way to dismantle the blockade. So, naturally there’s heightened anxiety.”
But Long Kesseh folk, among the estimated 20,000 people who would be displaced by the proposed 1,200Mw megawatts dam, are increasingly defiant.
The blockade, set up on October 23, 2013, started off with one large log thrown across the road to stop all traffic to the proposed dam site.
Since then, it has grown more sophisticated with the protesters building a military style barrack, complete with bathrooms and toilets for those manning the blockade.
The Baram dam is the latest in a series of controversial hydroelectric mega-dams the Sarawak government has planned to construct.
It is believed the dam is used to woo power-guzzling industries in search of cheap energy to turn Sarawak into an industrialised state by 2030.
Anti-dam protesters said the government planned to build not one but two such dams in Baram. – October 22, 2014.
Baram dam protesters confront forestry officials, set up new blockade
By Elizabeth Zachariah, The Malaysian Insider
Published: 22 October 2014