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Penan mount two anti-logging blockades

August 1, 2009

from Malaysiakini

Jul 31, 09 3:23pm

Dozens of indigenous Penan tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have set up roadblocks in Sarawak to stop logging firms from encroaching on their territory, activists said today. The Penan people, some of whom are nomadic hunter-gatherers, have been resisting deforestation of their ancestral land since the 1980s when Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser championed their cause.

Indigenous rights group Survival International said a group of Penan were making a new stand by mounting roadblocks across tracks cut by Malaysian timber firms that intrude deep into the forest.

The group said once the valuable trees have been felled the companies clear the land completely for oil palm plantations, leading to water pollution and loss of wildlife.

“The logging and oil palm companies are robbing the Penan not just of their forests but of their food and water,” Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said in a statement.

“It is essential that the Malaysian government recognises the Penan’s rights to their land and stops allowing the companies to take everything in sight.”

Blockade a last resort

Jok Jau Evong, field officer for Friends of the Earth in Sarawak, said two blockades had been erected in recent months, including one in the remote Long Daloh region that is still being manned by some 120
tribespeople.

“They are armed with blowpipes, their traditional hunting weapon. They do not want logging to be carried out in their forest reserve,” he told AFP.

“The Penans put up the blockade as a last resort after talks with the logging company failed,” he said, adding that the firms had suspended their activities but that there were doubts that agreement would hold.

“If the Penans lose their forest reserve, there is no way they can survive,” said the campaigner, who recently returned from the region.

“When I visited the two Penan areas, I felt very sad. There is a lack of food, especially for the children. Their lives are getting worse due to the increased logging activities,” Jok said.

The Penan people are among Malaysia’s poorest and number just 12,000 out of the two million people in Sarawak.

Jok said only around 400 Penan were still living a fully nomadic lifestyle, while many others have settled in villages and towns.

The plight of the Penan was made famous in the 1990s by Manser, who waged a crusade to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers, before vanishing in mysterious circumstances in 2000.

Penan face food shortages

Meanwhile, Bernama reported that 3,000 Penan from six settlements are facing afood shortage. According to Deputy Rural and Regional Development Minister Joseph Entulu Belaun, Lusong Laku, Long Avit, Long Kajang, LongTanyit, Long Malim and Long Ladem – all in remote Sarawak’s northeast – have been facing the shortage of food in the last three months.

“Their farms had been destroyed by wild animals and they are now depending entirely on food that they foraged from the jungle, but the supply is insufficient,” he told journalists in Kuching.

Lusong Laku, which is the nearest of the six settlements, could be reached from Bintulu through rugged timber track after a journey of at least nine hours, said Entulu.

It would take six hours by road to Lusong Laku from Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme, which is located about 30km from the site of the Bakun dam.

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