Penan Logging Blockade Maintained, Malaysia Must Implement Permanent Protections
Action Alert: UPDATED: Penan Logging Blockade Maintained, Malaysia Must Implement Permanent Protections
MAJOR UPDATE: Due to international pressure the blockade still stands. The email below has been updated to commend Malaysian authorities for their restraint and to request that the Penan’s last rainforested customary native lands be permanently protected and their land tenure permanently respected.
Malaysia’s indigenous Penan peoples are again resorting to logging road blockades to protect their native customary land rights and last remaining ancestral rainforest reserves. Logging workers of Malaysian Interhill Logging have already dismantled a Penan logging road blockade near Ba Abang in the Middle Baram region of Sarawak on the Island of Borneo. Now the Police and Federal Reserve Unit are reportedly moving into the Baram region to break a long-standing second blockade erected by the Penan to protect the boundaries of their last remaining large rainforest expanse. There exists great potential yet again in Sarawak for deadly violence against indigenous peoples striving to protect their way of life and rainforest habitats. And Malaysia’s government must be held accountable.This episode is the latest in a quixotic battle that has been waged for over two decades to protect the Penan peoples of Sarawak’s rainforest lands from predatory and often illegal industrial logging by Malaysian logging companies with the government’s blessing. Sadly, the battle for Sarawak’s large, contiguous rainforest wildernesses that were large enough to sustain traditional Penan lifestyles has largely been lost. While once the Penan struggle was the cause celebre of activists around the world, it has mostly faded from the public’s consciousness. Meanwhile the brutal, criminal logging enterprises have largely moved on to other rainforests occupied by indigenous peoples in such places as Papua New Guinea and Cambodia, where the have pursued similar corrupt, violent, immoral and ecocidal tactics. Yet, the Penan’s fight to protect what remains continues.
Their latest plea transmitted by the Bruno Manser Fonds organization of Switzerland reads: “Please support us and stay strongly behind us. Ask the police not to use force against us on our land. We, the Penan communities, will keep on the struggle for our forest for ever.” With this dramatic appeal, the headmen of the Penan communities in the 4th and 5th Division of Sarawak, Malaysia jointly ask politicians, lawyers, NGOs, government officials, the media and the general public to support the struggle for their native customary rights lands and their last remaining forest reserves.
Penan sources report that an unknown number of policemen have been brought to the area and that they were supported by the Federal Reserve Unit, a specially organized police unit trained to quell riots and disperse “unlawful assemblies”. The police are searching the area for the Penan community members, who set up the earlier blockade on 16 June and are currently hiding in the forest. However, no arrests have been made so far.
In a separate development, the Penan community of Long Benali is reporting that another road blockade further up the Baram river is to be dismantled using force. This blockade was established by the Penan in February 2004 to mark their community boundary and to prevent the bulldozers of the Miri-based logging giant Samling from encroaching further into their territory. According to the Penan, Samling intends to build a road up to the Kelabit community of Long Lellang to exploit one of the last remaining primary rainforest areas of Sarawak.
The announcement that this blockade is to be crushed further discredits the global movement to “certify” the environmental sustainability and ethicalness of logging ancient rainforest timbers. Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) had recently certified Samling Plywood (Baramas) Sdn. Bhd for “sustainable” logging in Penan’s contested indigenous rainforests. This certification of Samling has led to international protests supporting the Penan land rights case against Samling, which has been totally disregarded by MTCC. Now Samling has raised the stakes and is showing further disrespect for the Penan by moving to break their blockade.
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