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Penan suspend dam blockade, give government one month to respond to demands

Villagers blocking the road to Murum dam September 26, 2012. Photo courtesy of Bruno Manser Fond.
Villagers blocking the road to Murum dam September 26, 2012. Photo courtesy of Bruno Manser Fond..

Members of the Penan tribe have suspended their month long blockade of the Murum dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, reports Survival International. However, according to the indigenous group the fight is not over: the departing Penan said the Sarawak government had one month to respond to demands for sufficient compensation for the dam’s impact or face another blockade. Over 300 Penan people participated in the blockade, which stopped traffic leading to the construction site.

The 900 megawatt Murum dam will inundate 24,500 hectares of native land and force the resettlement of seven indigenous communities, although details of the resettlement plans have not been released. The Penan also contend that Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), the government owned corporation, has destroyed sacred and historical sites.

Sarawak is planning to build over a dozen dams in the next twenty years, though the state already produces more power than it can use. Critics say the dam building is likely a way for corrupt officials to fill their pockets with state money, but the government says the glut of power will attract new industry, such as mining.

Traditionally nomadic, the Penan people have been largely forced to live in small settlements after losing much of their customary forest to logging, plantations, roads, and dams. The government of Sarawak does not recognize their land rights.

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