Government ousts tribal leaders who oppose logging

September 23, 2008

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In an attempt to break resistance by tribal communities to logging, the government of Sarawak, Malaysia, has announced that it will no longer recognise elected leaders in some Penan communities.

The Penan are the only nomadic tribe in Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo. They have been fighting for more than twenty years to stop logging companies destroying the tropical rainforest in which they live. Many Penan communities have blockaded logging roads, facing arrests, violence and acute food shortages as a result.

Leaders who are no longer officially recognised will not receive their monthly allowance from the government.

At Long Benali, a community that has successfully prevented timber company Samling from entering its land through blockades and a media campaign, headman Saund Bujang has been deposed. The government is trying to install a pro-Samling headman in his place.

At Long Sait community, headman Bilong Oyoi, who has always been outspoken against logging in the area, has received a letter from the government telling him he has been deposed. Bilong is one of the leading plaintiffs in a Penan land rights claim that has been pending since 1998.

Another plaintiff in this same case, the late Kelesau Naan, former headman of Long Kerong, disappeared near his paddy fields in October 2007. Two months later, he was found dead; the Penan suspect that he was murdered. The Long Kerong community has since elected a new headman, but the government has refused to recognise him.

The community of Long Lamai, which filed land rights litigation against Samling and the Sarawak state government in April 2007, also has an elected headman whom the authorities have not recognized.

‘We protest against these violations of our right to elect our own leaders’, a Penan representative from the Upper Baram region said. ‘Despite all these attempts to undermine our leadership, the communities in the Upper Baram stand firmly behind their elected leaders.’

Source: Bruno Manser Fund

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