By Joseph Tawie
Local native NCR landowners protesting against the government for issuing provisional leases (PLs) to oil palm companies will not cower in fear.
A 4WD vehicle belonging to a local Iban native leader was torched early yesterday morning in what is seen as a “warning” of worse things to come if the natives persisted with their dispute over 5,500 acres of native customary rights (NCR) land, which the government had handed over to three oil palm companies.
The three companies which have been given provisional leases (PLs) over the land to plant oil palm are Memaju Jaya, United Team Trade and Tetangga Arkab.
One of the companies is allegedly owned by former Kedup assemblyman, Frederick Bayoi Manggie. The native landowners alleged that their land was part of a deal for Manggie to step down as elected representative. His place has since been taken over by Martin Ben.
The torched RM76,000 Hilux truck belonged to Micheal Lung who has been at the forefront defending the rights of the 200 affected landowners.
According to Luang, his vehicle was parked near his house at Kampung Tanah Mawang, about 20km from Serian.
“I was wakened up early this morning by the sound of fire and went to check. I was shocked when I saw my Hilux parked near the house burning and saw someone leaving the place in a car.
“It is obvious that these people were trying to intimidate me because I am one of the leaders who are defending our NCR land.
“I can tell you we will not be cowed by this act of vandalism. Instead, we will become more resolute in defending our NCR land,” he told FMT, adding that their great grandparents had created this NCR land for them and no one had the right to take it away.
Luang has since lodged a report at the Serian police station.
Several angry leaders and landowners turned up at Luang’s house upon hearing of the incident to discuss a number of options open to them, one of which was through the legal means.
“We have contacted our lawyers,” Luang said.
He added that a few weeks ago officials from the Land and Survey Department contacted them and urged the community to “cooperate”.
“They told us the government could not do anything now since the PLs have been given to the companies to plant oil palm,” said Luang, who was one of the Iban natives from several longhouses in Balai Ringin who carried out camped-in protests at the car park of the Land and Survey headquarters in mid-May this year.
More than 70 men and women camped three days and nights at the car park until the Land and Survey director agreed to meet with them.
Initially, the director refused to meet with them until the protests caught the attention not only of local and national media, but also of international organisations.
Their protests also attracted the attention of both the opposition and the Barisan Nasional leaders.
Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen raised the matter in the State Legislative Assembly, which was sitting at that time.
“The delaying tactics by the Land and Survey Department is not helping the natives. This is the time when the people are standing up for their rights to their land that the government has taken away.
“They are going to stay here until the problem is resolved.
“We call on all those who face similar problems to come and visit them in order to show solidarity with them,” Chong, who is Sarawak DAP secretary, had said.
Change the policy
Chong said this was not the only group that had suffered. Throughout Sarawak, there are hundreds of thousands of natives whose lands have been taken away from them.
“This is very unfair on the part of the state government which only turns a blind eye to their problem. Only through change of policy can these problems be solved,” he added
The natives first brought their case to the Land and Survey director in January this year, asking him to cancel the PLs on their land.
On March 17, the same group again tried to meet the director. Again, the director refused to talk to them. Instead, he sent a junior officer to deal with them.
On May 14, they wanted to see the director for the third time. Again, the director refused to meet them.
A junior officer was sent to talk to them, saying that their problems were yet to be solved.
Unhappy and angry, the natives numbering 70 comprising men and women refused to go home and set up camps in the car park in front of the Land and Survey Department to show their protest.