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8 tribesmen arrested in Borneo dam protest

Malaysian authorities arrested eight indigenous protestors on Thursday in a crackdown on a long-running demonstration against a dam the tribesmen say will flood their homeland in Malaysian Borneo.

According to a report from the AFP, police arrested eight Penan protesters and dismantled barriers that had been blockading a road to the Murum dam site. The Penan are demanding greater compensation for being displaced by the $1.3 billion dam, which will flood 245 square kilometers of land. The Penan complain they are not be adequately compensated for loss of their villages, farmland, and livelihoods.

Raymond Abin, an activist with Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network, a group that is fighting plans for more than a dozen dams in Sarawak, told the AFP the arrests are an intimidation tactic.

“The authorities just find that this is the only way to deal with the people — refusing to deal with their demands,” Abin was quoted as saying. “The easy way is to arrest them in order to intimidate and threaten them.”

Murum and other planned dams in Sarawak are highly contentious, with environmentalists and human rights groups concerned about the impact on forests, local people, and river systems. There are also worries about corruption and cronyism associated with the projects. Last week a report revealed more than $400 million in contracts had been awarded by the state energy company, Sarawak Energy, to a company headed by the chief minister’s son. The company is building transmissions lines linked to the projects.

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