Penan headman found dead, suspected murdered

January 4, 2008

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Penan tribal headman Kelesau Naan of Sarawak, Malaysia, who went missing on 23 October, has been found dead. His relatives suspect he has been murdered due to his resistance to illegal logging on the Penan’s land.

Kelesau’s remains were found about two hours walk from his home. ‘His hand was broken and looked as if it had been hit by a sharp object,’ said his relative Matin Bujang.

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 suspect 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. He and other leaders initiated a major Penan land rights claim, which has been awaiting trial since 1998.

In the 1990s, two Penan who were involved in disputes with timber companies disappeared in a similar way to Kelesau Naan, and a Swiss activist who worked with the tribe went missing in Sarawak in 2000.

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.’