Murum Dam: Protesting Penans Forced Out

Hundreds of Penan villagers have been forced to abandon Murum Dam blockades and accept minor compensation packages after 77 days due to floods that will destroy their homes and livelihoods. Read more below about how their community intends to continue fighting.

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MURUM: The Penans here have been forced to concede defeat and abandon their blockades after 77 days as impoundment of the contentious Murum Dam continued.

According to villagers, flooding will soon drown their longhouses, logging roads and bridges, completely destroying their lives and livelihood.

Speaking to Radio Free Sarawak, Penan lawyer Abun Sui Anyit said the community was forced into accepting a token compensation package of RM23,000 per family by the state government.

“Based on my telephone conversation with Gereng Jadung of Long Tangau today, they were forced to move.

“Furthermore, their old longhouses will be flooded soon and the logging road, especially the bridges, will be destroyed by the owner’s company that will make it difficult for their movement and therefore difficult for them to proceed with the blockade.”

He said one of the protesting Penan chieftains had relented and forced his community to move to the new resettlement area in Metalu. The other resettlement area is in Tegulang where re-settled Penans have a litany of complaints.

“Most of the Penans were influenced by an additional RM8,000 offered by SEB (Sarawak Energy Berhad), making it RM23,000,” said Anyit.

But early last week, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud had rubbished their demand describing it as “outrageous”. He went on to add that the state would not pay “one sen more”. The Penans had been demanding that the state government compensate each household with RM500,000 and 25 hectares of land each. They have also asked for a derivative royalty from the Murum Dam and a wider area as communal forest.

Penans to battle on

The Penans have initiated a legal suit against the government, and Anyit said the community will see this through.

He said the Penans will also continue to protest the government backtracking on its initial pledge to fairly compensate the community.

“They will still protest and are determined to continue with a court case against the government and SEB (Sarawak Energy Berhad)” Anyit said.

About 1,500 Penan and Kenyah natives from seven villages in the area are adversely affected by the Murum Dam.

Residents from three villagers were earlier forced out of their homes when the main contractors SEB allegedly began impounding the 944MV dam without informing them.

Over 300 Penans had been mounting blockades-on-blockades at the Murum Dam site since September.

The situation came to boil when 10 Penans including two underaged teenagers were arrested. Police then severed the community from all access to food, water, medicine in the hope of compelling them into stopping their protest.

The human rights situation in Murum was brought into global spotlight last week after an international coalition of 29 NGOs expressed their shock at the treatment of Penan women, children and men and sought to shame Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak into intervening in the Murum stand-off between the Penans and the police.

The coalition members presented their letters to Malaysian ambassadors in 16 cities worldwide urging Najib to ‘protect’ the Penan and expressed their shock at the intimidation, threats, arrests, detentions and criminalisation of members of the Penan families seeking justice against forced displacement.

They said this was “in clear violation of legally guaranteed rights” with respect to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Meanwhile in Baram, similar protests have also drawn international concern over plans for yet another dam here.

Sarawak already has three dams – Batang Ai, Bakun and now Murum. All three are allegedly plagued with the unfair displacement and victimisation of the indigenous communities.


Cover Image: In a picture taken on August 20, 2009, Penan tribespeople man a blockade with banners and spears to challenge vehicles of timber and plantation companies in Long Nen in Malaysia’s Sarawak State. — AFP pic