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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Bob Brown joins fight to save Sarawak rivers

Re-blogging:

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

Former Greens Senator Bob Brown addresses delegates to the SAVE Rivers’ alternative conference.

More than 300 local indigenous people held a rally in Kuching amid the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) biannual conference – the IHA World Congress on Advancing Sustainable Hydropower  – which runs from May 20-25.

The congress is the world’s largest gathering of dam builders and financiers to discuss industry issues. It is also a venue to share practical experiences, policies, and solutions to climate, water, and energy challenges.

Australian-owned Hydro Tasmania (HT) is involved in the controversial dams and is also a sponsor of the event.

HT joined the project as a technical adviser to Sarawak Energy, the dam-building authority of the multi-billion Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).  The project involves 12 highly controversial dams projected to produce 28,000 MW of power.

Bob Brown poses with dam activists during the IHA Congress.

SAVE Sarawak Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers), which organised an alternative conference, said the dams would affect tens of thousands of indigenous people and flood over 2,000 square kilometres of rainforest.

The project is said to be lacking environmental impact assessments despite repeated demands from the affected communities. SAVE Rivers also says that China’s Three Gorges Corporation “began construction on the 944 megawatt Murum Dam in 2012 before its environmental impact assessment had even commenced, leaving affected communities with no option to negotiate resettlement outcomes.”

SAVE Rivers said the dams would be the energy backbone of the Sarawak government’s SCORE Initiative, the plan to rapidly industrialize the state primarily through the expansion of aluminium smelting facilities, palm oil plantations, and other commodity sectors.

Brown, accompanied by Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Centre, addressed the SAVE Rivers’ alternative conference while HT Chair David Crean and CEO Roy Adair are taking part in the IHA conference.

At the alternative conference,  indigenous communities were given a voice to oppose the dams being built on their land. On Wednesday, they arrived carrying banners saying ‘Respect Native Rights’, ‘Stop Baram Dam’, ’IHA Stop Collaborating With Corrupt Regime’, and ‘No More Dams,’ among other signs.

Protesters flash banners opposing the dams in Sarawak.

The dams are project of the Sarawak state government of Abdul Taib Mahmud who is under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after amassing a fortune of billions of dollars while in office.

Brown said in a statement: “Hydro Tasmania’s senior officers are addressing this conference of the world’s biggest dam builders on ‘sustainability’ while the indigenous people of Sarawak are protesting outside and while HT has four consultants working on these megadams which international organizations have condemned as involving gross corruption.”

In 2011, the IHA launched a voluntary auditing tool for dam builders to assess their social and environmental performance, called the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP). Zachary Hurwitz, Policy Program Coordinator at International Rivers, said  HSAP may be useful to guide dam builders and governments on sustainability. However, he admits the risk that “dam builders could use it to greenwash the worst dams, especially given such a context of heavy-handed repression and corruption.”

More protesters say ‘no to dams’.

In December last year, Peter Kallang, chairman of the SAVE Rivers group of Sarawak Indigenous leaders and James Nyurang, village headman from the Baram River Region, led a tour to Australia and called on Hydro Tasmania to pull their support out of the controversial dams. Related article HERE.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent