Malaysia: Kelantan Indigenous Group Vows to Stop Logging

Melati A. Jalil
Kuala Lumpur
160930-TH-protest-620.jpg A group of indigenous people (right) man a blockade to protest logging in Kelantan, Malaysia, Sept. 28, 2016.
Courtesy of Mustafa Along

A spokesman for indigenous people in Malaysia’s Kelantan state vowed Friday to block a logging road in a protected forest until state officials stop granting licenses to cut down timber in the area.

Members of the Kelantan Network of Orang Asli Villages (JKOAK) set up the blockade earlier this week in an area they claim as their ancestral land, and rebuilt it late Wednesday after a tense standoff with loggers in which shots were fired, according to the activists.

“I cannot say how long we will be here but my friends and I will continue this blockade as long as the loggers don’t leave, as long as the forest clearing and logging doesn’t stop,” JKOAK secretary Mustafa Along told BenarNews on Friday.

“Our demand now is that for the state government to open their eyes, listen to our complaint and stop and withdraw all the licenses. As long as there is logging, our blockade will continue.”

According to footage of the confrontation Wednesday published by The Star, a Malaysian newspaper, a man used a chainsaw to tear down the bamboo structure while activists were still clinging to it.

A man also fired shots at the activists, according to one of them, identified only as Halim.

“A vehicle with two people inside stopped in front of us, and one took out a rifle and fired. After that, we didn’t have a chance to take a picture, we ran down into the forest. He got down, he put in another round and he fired again,” Halim said on camera.

Three of the men were briefly detained in a truck, according to Mustafa Along. He said the trio filed a complaint Wednesday night at the district police station in Gua Musang, a town in southern Kelantan about two hours from where the confrontation took place.

Gua Musang police deputy Sow Sing said Wednesday’s incident was being investigated.

“The situation is not as bad as reported. There were no shots fired,” he told BenarNews.

No contact

Malaysian indigenous rights activist and lawyer Siti Kasim told BenarNews that no state official had made contact with the indigenous activists since their protest began.

She claimed that contracts issued by Kelantan state government specify that logging companies should resolve any issues with indigenous people themselves.

“I saw a clause in one of the logging contracts. So as far as the state government is concerned, I suppose, they have protected themselves already, if any problem occurs. It’s really up to the contractors to sort it out with Orang Asli over any problems on the ground,” she told BenarNews.

She said the protesters were not against logging but wanted it to be done appropriately without “destroying the jungle and the mountain.”

Kelantan Deputy Chief Minister Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, who is in charge of the state’s regional development, land affairs and natural resources portfolio, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BenarNews.

An official with the Malaysia Chinese Association Kelantan Liaison Committee said Friday he had witnessed first-hand how rampant logging in the region had triggered soil erosion that cut road links and the access of Orang Asli to towns and food sources.

“It is baffling how the loggers obtained licenses for felling logs in Permanent Reserve Forest (PRF), when the land was purportedly meant to be conserved for ecological services such as water catchment protection and soil stabilization,” said the statement by Lua Choon Hann.

In December 2014, the East Coast state of Peninsular Malaysia was hit by the worst flooding in the past decade, displacing more than 100,000 people from their homes. At the time, the National Security Council secretary blamed rampant logging activities for worsening the flooding and landslides, according to Malaysian media.

On Thursday, Kelantan Forestry Director Zahari Ibrahim said that 7,248 hectares of more than 600,000 hectares of permanent forest reserves in Kelantan have been illegally occupied since the 1980s, according to Bernama, the state news agency.

The illegally cleared forest land was being used for agriculture, including palm oil production, and settlements, he said.

But on Friday, Natural Resource and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar denied that permanent forest reserves in Kelantan had been cleared, according to the Malay Mail Online. “The Kelantan Forestry Department is actively monitoring developments on this issue,” it quoted him as saying.

Indigenous people comprise about 12 percent of Malaysia’s 31 million people.


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