After being forced out of their community over the building of the Murum dam, the Penan are tired of being ignored and plan to march in protest in the national capital tomorrow. Read more below about the grievances of the Penan and the dam which has uprooted thousands of people.
Read more at The Malay Mail Online
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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Tired of being ignored, a group of Penans have decided to defend their homes in Sarawak from the multibillion ringgit Murum dam project by taking their fight to the national capital in a protest march tomorrow.
The Damn the Dams Action group will lead 13 natives from the Penan tribe across the South China Sea to the city where they plan on marching the short distance to Parliament from the national police headquarters in Bukit Aman.
They will be distributing memorandums to highlight their plight, and hope to make contact with the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and several federal lawmakers.
Group coordinator Khim Pa said the trip was planned with the hope that such direct contact with these lawmakers would make a difference in their fight for proper compensation, after being forced out of their community over the building of the US$1.3 billion (RM4.16 billion) Murum dam.
“These are the people who reporters can’t reach because of the distance and police roadblocks, so they have decided to come to this concrete jungle to voice their grievances.
“Personally I would think it would be worse if we don’t do anything, it would be worse if the Penans don’t come and voice their problems,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted here.
Pa stressed that he was only acting as facilitator to the Penans who had been the ones who insisted on personally taking their demands to Bukit Aman and the Parliament.
The Murum dam is one of a series of hydroelectric facilities planned by the Sarawak state government as it pushes economic development in one of Malaysia’s poorest states. But the building spree has been dogged by controversy.
Activists allege massive corruption while natives complain it has flooded rainforests and uprooted tens of thousands of people.
Sarawak Energy said on its website that the 944-megawatt dam project began filling on September 21 and would be completed within 14 months. It added that relocation of affected natives was set to be completed by year-end.
Today, although Pa said he could not speak for the Penans, he pointed out that Peter Kallang, the chairman of SAVE Rivers, a coalition of Sarawak-based indigenous rights groups in response to the mega dam construction plan had said they have to march tomorrow because “it is their duty to defend their rights, regardless of the outcome”.
Kallang is also the chairman of the Orang Ulu National Association’s (OUNA) Miri.
Today, Pa said about 200 people are still protesting at the entrance of the dam as many villagers as well as chieftains have come out to join the protest.
“It really couldn’t get any worse because they just need to come over to voice their problems,” he said, stressing that the police are even stopping reporters form going into the area, hence there are almost little to none coverage on the issue, except for one French paper, he said.
He said about 13 Penan men and women are expected to march tomorrow, starting with submitting a memorandum on police harrassment to the country’s top cop, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, then to the Parliament to brief the MPs on their plight.
In the evening, Pa said there will be a forum at the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall at 8pm where the Penan women will share their struggles.
When asked if he expects any confrontation with the law enforcement agencies, he said he highly doubted it as it would just be a short walk and the “Penans are peaceful people”.
According to the memorandum, the indigenous peoples affected by the Murum dam, have been blockading at the Murum Highway since September 20.
They were driven from their homes when the dam was impounded without prior notice, they said.
“Our longhouses were razed to the ground by Sarawak Energy along with many of our prized possessions, such as motors for their boats and private family belongings, which they had been promised we could later collect.
“We were dumped on an abandoned oil palm plantation, with none of the promised amenities such as schools or clinics for miles around.
“We were just given a few sacks of rice which was supposed to last us for a month,” it said.
Penans, unlike the Kayan or Kayah people who are good at farming, are mostly hunter gatherers and rely on the forest for food.
They said they no longer have access to the forest and the river that once provided food for them and they cannot afford transportation on the RM800 proposed for each family a month.
It also said that there are not enough room for all the families affected in the new longhouses.
“Many of us have been protesting by blockading the access road to the Murum Dam site itself, camping by the side of the road. Numerous families are now suffering sores and illnesses through the many days at the blockade.
“We have been living off rations such as biscuits and instant noodles provided by kindly supporters and this has taken a heavy toll on our health,” it said.
Instead of protecting the indigenous group against “such gross injustice”, the state government sent a contingent of FRU riot police to the area on top of many local police with guns who were already there to intimidate them into moving, without a single guarantee of safeguard for their future, it claimed.
On November 7, 10 Penans were arrested, including two teenagers, aged 13 and 16. They were remanded at the Belaga Police Station and were released four days later on police bail.
They were requested to attend Court in Belaga on November 26 to answer charges under section 341 for wrongful restraint and section 448 of the Penal Code for criminal trespass.
Upon their release, the group lodged a police report against the police, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) and the Sarawak state government for unlawful arrest.
“The police have been trying to agitate us at the blockade site so that we would react and give a reason for them to arrest us.
“Nevertheless, we have pledged to continue with our blockade at the Murum dam site until an acceptable, written compensation agreement has been signed by the authorities.
“We refuse to be displaced from our centuries-old ancestral land and to be treated like refugees in our own country,” it said.
About 1,500 Penans would be uprooted from their ancestral land following the inundation of the 944 MV Murum dam.
They are still demanding for a full agreement and consultation and fair compensation for the people affected by the dams.
They have asked for a compensation of communal forest of 30,000 hectares for the seven villages, RM500,000 for each family affected by the Murum dam, 25 hectares of land per household; RM3,000 per household monthly and a royalty of 10 per cent of electricity revenue generated.
“We are appealing to relevant authorities to step in at this testing and critical moment for us, the indigenous peoples who are being forcibly displaced from our centuries-old ancestral land for the Murum dam, to ensure that a negotiation process can take place between the indigenous peoples and the authorities,” it said.
The Suhakam Report of the National Inquiry into Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2013 had recommended that there is recognition of indigenous customary lands and a remedy for loss of customary lands, among others.
The government of resource-rich Sarawak had said it hoped a plentiful supply of hydropower from the state’s powerful jungle rivers will attract new industries.
The dam is expected to flood 245 square kilometres and cause 1,500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives to lose their homes.
As Sarawak natives have staged increasingly frequent protests and road blockades in recent years over the dams, long-time chief minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud faced mounting accusations of enriching himself and cronies through a stranglehold on the state’s economy, charges which he denies.
Sarawak is home to the already operating Bakun dam, which Transparency International has condemned as a graft-plagued ecological catastrophe.
Chi, Melissa. “Penans to stage anti-Murum dam march to Parliament tomorrow.” The Malay Mail Online. 19 Nov 2013. <http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/penans-to-stage-anti-murum-dam-march-to-parliament-tomorrow>.