Rainforest chief killed in Borneo for his opposition to logging
Honored chieftain allegedly murdered in Borneo for his opposition to logging
Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
January 3, 2008
Keleasu Naan, a Penan chieftain and longtime activist against logging, disappeared in October while checking animal traps. His tribes’ worst fears were confirmed when they found what they believed to be Naan’s remains last month. According to the Associated Press, the chieftain’s nephew, Michael Ipa, has stated that the body had several broken bones, leading Ipa to believe that “he has been killed by people involved in logging”.
Keleasu Naan had been one of the key figures in the Penan community’s fight against logging. He was also a plaintiff and witness in a land rights claim that has been awaiting trial since 1998.
One-hundred Penan villagers walked sixty miles this week to lodge a report at the closest police station and demand an investigation into Naan’s death. This is not the first time that Penans involved in anti-logging activity have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Two activist Penans disappeared in the 1990s. In 2000, Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmentalist and champion of Penan rights, also disappeared in the jungle. No sign of him has been found, and some believe he was assassinated. .
Logging in Borneo has been rampant since the 1980’s. In 2005 just over 50% of Borneo’s forest remained. More recently palm oil plantations have increased pressure on the forests. Naan’s Penan community had managed to keep logging out of what the villagers claim is their ancestral land, but they now believe that several timber companies plan to resume logging. Aboriginal peoples of the Malaysia’s Sarawek region, the Penans number around 10,000. They currently live in settlements, but have not completely abandoned their traditional nomadic ways. They subsist off small gardens, hunting, and gathering. Since so much of the Penan’s resources come from the forest, its disappearance may mark their own.