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Malaysia pushes Borneo rainforest logging by deposing tribal leaders

Malaysia pushes Borneo rainforest logging by deposing tribal leaders

Malaysia pushes Borneo rainforest logging by deposing tribal leaders
September 9, 2008

The Malaysian government is attempting to quell indigenous opposition to logging in the rainforests of Borneo by deposing community leaders and replacing them with timber company stakeholders, reports an environmental group.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO that works on behalf of the forest people of Sarawak, Malaysia, says that the headmen of at least three Penan communities that have opposed logging have lost official recognition from Malaysian authorities over the past year. The government is working to install representatives who support logging.

“The non-recognition of the elected community headmen by the Sarawak State Government is a clear violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” stated the Bruno Manser Fund in an emailed release. “The Declaration, which has been adopted by Malaysia, upholds in its article 18 the right of indigenous communities ‘to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures’.”

Baram Penan community leaders discussing among each other, to the right, deposed Long Sait headman Bilong Oyoi in 2006.

Assembly of Upper Baram headmen in 2006 (top left corner: the late Kelesa Naan, former headman of Long Kerong; top right corner: Bilong Oyoi, the deposed headman of Long Sait). Copyright the Bruno Manser Fund

The Penan communities of Sarawak have waged a long battle against the logging of their ancestral homeland in the rainforests of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. The opposition reached a crescendo in the 1980s when the Penan blocked logging roads and sabotaged equipment. The Malaysian government responded by closing down media access to the area and sending in armed forces to violently supress the unrest. While the attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the rapacious logging of Borneo’s forests, they had relatively little long-term impact.

Today the Penan face not only loggers but increased pressure from oil palm developers as well as an ambitious government plan to dam several rainforest rivers in an effort to generate electricity to attract aluminum smelters and mineral refiners.

Map showing the location of the villages of the deposed headmen and the area of the pending land rights litigations. Copyright the Bruno Manser Fund

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