Malaysian PM urged to intervene amid Sarawak dam tension

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been asked to intervene in the escalating tension surrounding the Murum dam project in Sarawak.

A police squad was dispatched to the dam site to confront the barricade opposing Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) hydro energy project.

A police officer fires his gun in the air at the Murum dam blockade site. (Photo: Supplied)

About 30 police officers reportedly bullied 300 protestors on Thursday. Ngang Buling, chairman of the Peleiran Murum Penan Affairs Committee was arrested and brought to the Belaga Police Station for questioning in relation to his involvement in the blockade. A police officer fired a shot in the air to disperse the protesters, sources said. Following the arrest of Ngang, the protesters also asked the police to arrest them. Some of the villagers chased the police vehicle carrying Ngang who is to be held at the station for four days.  SAVE Rivers is reported to be dispatching a human rights lawyer to take care of the case.

On Friday, Buling was released on bail but will face court next month on criminal trespass charge, local media reports.

Protesters marched to the dam site following the impoundment of the dam which started on September 22. According to anti-dam NGOs who contacted Asian Correspondent, residents were not given notice while resettlement agreements have not been put in place.

Earlier, representatives from the Penan community affected by the dam went to Miri to lodge a police report against SEB and the Sarawak State Government for impounding the dam without giving them notice.

Penan people’s representatives at a local police station. (Photo: Supplied)

Community spokesperson Lugan Usang from Long Tangau said in a press statement that the safety and livelihood of his people are at risk. Above the Murum dam, there are still many Penan and Kenyah communities that have yet to move and are still living at their respective villages of Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim, Long Wat and Long Umpa.

Houses, livestock, farms, fruit trees, and other livelihood are said to be at risk without notice of compensation from Sarawak Energy or from the Sarawak government. If destroyed, there would not be any evidence to claim compensation, Lugan said. The spokesperson also pointed out that the Penans and Kenyahs are not ready to move because the resettlement site at Metalon has yet to be completed.

“The crops and fruit trees which were promised to us by the government to sustain our livelihood have yet to be planted…. The same goes for the school and the clinic, it is not built yet. How are we going to live at Metalon?” Lugan asked.

SEB confirmed  communities directly affected by the proposed Murum Dam Project consists of 353 households with 1,415 people (as of August 2011) comprised of 335 Penan households with 1,304 Penan and 18 Kenyah Badeng households with 113 Kenyah.

The site of the Murum hydro power dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Penans chase SEB CEO  Sjotveit

The Penans chased Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SEB out from the dam site for failing to meet the demands of the Penans and Kenyah communities.

The Penans accused Sjotveit of being arrogant with no interest at all in negotiation. They said he wanted the blockade to be dismantled and the protesters driven from the area. The Penans chased him out of the site instead, which forced the police to intervene and to take Sjotveit away to a secure location.

Resettlement solutions

SEB has released a 168-page Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) document containing compensation policy by the government. The properties eligible for compensation include longhouses, crops including fruit trees, grave yards, community halls and churches, as well as land.

Most of the key elements of the compensation package were approved by the government in February 2011 and communicated to the affected people, according to the energy company, although local communities say there was no public consultation.

Residents are left on the sidelines while they watch incoming trucks to the dam site. (Photo: Supplied)

However, the Sarawak Report detailed a dark side of the plan which is tantamount to “ethnic genocide“.

A clandestine copy of the RAP reportedly shows that the proposals do not represent any “fair compensation for the displaced hunter-gatherer communities who have lived in the Murum territories for generations and who have lost their jungles and livelihoods to logging, oil palm and soon floodwaters”.

Furthermore, the proposed level of compensation consists of a monthly allowance which falls far below poverty levels even in Sarawak. “State assistance of just RM500 per family (US$157) will run out after just 4 years,” the report said.

Alternative media also reported the hidden details of the RAP which ”tell the shocking truth about the lives of the Penan and their total neglect by the government that plans to wipe out the land which has been their home and provided their livelihood for generations.”

The Penan protesters are urging the prime minister to intervene and to immediately stop the impoundment and displacement of people.

Blog LInk: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Anti-Sarawak dam protests in Malaysia, Australia

Separate rallies are taking place in Australia and Malaysia in a collective effort to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the construction of 12 mega-dams that are underway in Sarawak.

In Malaysia, anti-dam protesters demonstrated outside Kuala Lumpur Parliament building on Thursday. They held signs against the Murum Dam and Baram Dam and called on the Malaysian government to respect indigenous peoples’ demands for a fair settlement of their rights.

Anti-dam protesters carry banners in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Bruno Manser Fund)

In Murum, Sarawak, over 100 Penan leaders staged a blockade to stop the flow of traffic to the dam site on the same day. Their aim was to get the attention of the Malaysian government and the state owned-power company, Sarawak Energy,  and pressure them to stop the mega-dam projects.

The protesters hope they got the message across: Respect indigenous and human rights and provide appropriate compensation for the loss of their lands and homes.

Carrying signs, and food and bedding, they have taken over the only road to and from the dam site and are not allowing any traffic through.

Brihannala Morgan, director of the Borneo Project, said in a press statement that this dam, one of 12 mega dams planned across the region, will drown over 2,750 sq km of forest and traditionally owned land.

This is the second blockade that the Penan people of the Murum area have erected. The first blockade was in September 2012 when the Penan of Long Wat village held a blockade that delayed construction of the dam for over a month.

Sarawak Energy promised the Penan compensation and prime land for relocation, but failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, they are relocating the Penan to swampy areas that are unable to support their traditional agricultural practices and way of life.

Just before impoundment began earlier this month, the longhouse of Long Wat village was burned by Sarawak Energy workers. Details are still forthcoming, yet it appears that this case of arson was committed without the prior knowledge of the villagers.

“The world needs to stand up and take action against such rampant abuse of power,” said Morgan, adding, “The plight of the Penan is a fundamental example of corporate greed steamrolling human rights.”

According to SAVE-Rivers, the statewide network of anti-dam activists, the Penan are demanding RM 50,000 per family (about US $15,500), as well as 25 hectares of land, a 10 per cent share in the profits from the Murum Dam, as well as full compensation for their lost land and resources.

The Murum Dam is one of 12 mega dams slated to be built in Malaysian Borneo by 2020. The dam will produce 944 MW of energy, energy that currently has no purchasers or identified demand. On-the-ground efforts, such as SAVE-Rivers, work to coordinate indigenous-led resistance against dam expansion and massive resettlement.

Protest held in Hobart

A rally held at Hydro Tasmania head office in Hobart. (Photo: Sarawak Report)

The Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) hosted a separate protest at the at Hydro Tasmania head office in a show solidarity with the indigenous people of Murum, Sarawak.

Jenny Weber, spokeswoman of the HVEC, said Sarawak faces the dire consequences in light of the government’s failure to uphold human rights.

“Flooding of Murum Dam begun last Saturday, while six out of seven villages remain in the region, and more than 100 Penan people blockade at the Murum dam site,” she said.

Australia-owned Hydro Tasmania is implicated in the human and environmental violations by assisting Sarawak Energy.

The dam project in the area is reported to have caused flooding on the lands of indigenous peoples at Murum, although most of the affected villagers have not been resettled and their demands not addressed.

Weber also implicated Sarawak Energy workers as the suspected arsonist in a Penan village. “We have been informed that one Penan village was burnt down in a case of suspected arson by Sarawak Energy workers.” Other allegations include communities reporting the loss of fishing boats due to the impoundment. An estimated 1500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives will lose their homes due to the Murum dam impoundment,  Weber said.

“The construction of Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers. Hydro Tasmania, have staff secondments in Sarawak, including engineer Andrew Pattle who directed the Murum dam construction. Hydro Tasmania is responsible for the displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. We condemn Hydro Tasmania, as they continue to assist human rights violations and environmentally destructive practices in Sarawak,” Weber said.

“We are asking Hydro Tasmania and our Tasmanian Government to stop supporting the Sarawak government in their oppression of indigenous people in Sarawak, stop implicating our state in this humanitarian crisis.  As long as Tasmania assists the Sarawak regime they are culpable for assisting the Sarawak government’s human rights violations.  People of Murum, Sarawak and International NGOs are calling for urgent intervention and an immediate stop of the Murum dam impoundment,” Weber said.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown addresses conference delegates in Sarawak earlier this year.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flew to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak,  earlier this year to give his backing to a large group of local communities opposing the controversial mega dam projects in the region.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent