14 Dec 2010
PETALING JAYA: With an already declining rainforest, Sarawak now intends to turn another million hectares of jungle into oil palm plantations in the next 10 years.
According to English daily The Star, Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing said native customary rights (NCR) land belonging to the state’s indigenous people would be used to plant more oil palm.
Masing said that the state government was looking into a “more aggressive” conversion of native lands, and that it had request for funds from the federal government for this purpose.
Swiss-based rainforest activist group Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) was appalled at this decision. “Masing’s announcement comes as a shock to human rights and environmental campaigners who are increasingly concerned about the ruthless alienation of native lands,” it said.
BMF said that more than 920,000 hectares of land in Sarawak are occupied by oil palm plantations. It added that Masing’s plan would add two million more hectares by 2020.
NCR land is a contentious issue in Sarawak, where many indigenous communities have faced down both private companies and the state government for moving into their territory.
Late last October, seven Iban villagers from Sebuyau were accused of allegedly setting fire to a timber campsite. The villagers have argued that the charges were baseless, as some of them were not even in the area when the incident took place.
Prior to the supposed arson, the people of Sebuyau mounted a blockade to prevent timber workers from entering an area which the former claimed was NCR land.
Their attempts to include the state government in defending their land fell on deaf ears. However, when the alleged burning took place, the authorities were noticeably lightning-quick in detaining the accused villagers.
BMF said that the state government had failed to enforce its forest legislation policies and accused it of unlawfully handling native rights issues.
The activist group said this had led to the European Union’s decision to stop timber trade talks with Malaysia over its Voluntary Partnership Agreement.
BMF also said that the root of all of Sarawak’s environmental problems was the rule of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
In charge of the state since 1981, Taib has recently come under fire over land deals given to his family members, as well as owning a large number of overseas properties.