KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian police said Saturday they had arrested a native leader who set up roadblocks in Borneo to stop a logging firm from encroaching on their ancestral land.
Ondie Jugah, 55, from the Iban indigenous group, was among a group of 10 people who have mounted a blockade since early this week in the interior of eastern Sarawak state, on Borneo island.
Police said Ondie was detained late Friday after he refused to remove the blockade, following complaints filed by the logging company.
“We directed him to open up the road but he refused, so we have to take him back to facilitate investigation,” a senior police official from the local Kapit district, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
Police said Ondie was expected to be released later Saturday after questioning.
Ondie’s son, Anthony, urged the police to release his father, saying they were merely protecting their home.
“They (the logging company) want to destroy our land and did not want to compensate us,” the 29-year-old told AFP.
Nicholas Mujah, secretary general of indigenous rights group Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, condemned the arrest as a form of “harassment” of the vulnerable group and demanded the authorities respect native land rights.
The native Iban people are the largest indigenous group in Sarawak, making up almost half of the state’s two million population. Other indigenous groups include Kenyah, Kayan and about 10,000 Penan people.
The Penan, some of whom are nomadic hunter-gatherers, have complained that their way of life is under threat from extensive logging of their traditional hunting grounds, as well as the spread of palm oil and timber plantations.