Penan headman missing, feared murdered

A headman from the Penan tribe of Sarawak, Malaysia, has gone missing and his community fear he may have been murdered. Kelesau Naan was last seen on 23 October when he left on a hunting trip. After two months of searching for their leader, the Penan have reported his disappearance to the police.

The Penan have spent twenty years trying to keep logging companies off their land. Their plight deeply moved BBC presenter Bruce Parry when he visited them for his hit TV show Tribe.

The Penan fear that Kelesau Naan may have been murdered for his resistance to the logging. His community lies within a logging concession granted to Malaysian company Samling, and he was a leader in the Penan’s struggle against the devastation of their land.

Before his disappearance Kelesau said, ‘Defiance has proven its worth. We are glad that we didn’t allow ourselves to be bought by the logging companies.’

Tensions between the logging companies and the Penan have intensified in recent months. In April and in August this year, security forces were called in to help dismantle Penan road blockades.

In the late 1990s when Samling was advancing on Kelesau’s community, the Penan blocked the logging road, making human barricades in front of the company’s bulldozers. The Malaysian army ended the blockade with force, injuring 14 and arresting four Penan. But the Penan kept up their opposition, and Samling moved on to log other areas. To stop the company returning, Kelesau and others initiated a major Penan land rights claim, which has been awaiting trial since 1998.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Kelesau Naan may have paid the ultimate price for standing up for his people’s rights to their land. It is time the Malaysian government recognised the Penan’s land rights and ended the harassment of those who seek to defend these rights.’

For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]