12 April, 2007

Armed police dismantle Penan logging blockade

Malaysian police in Sarawak have for a second time dismantled a blockade set up by members of the Penan tribe to protect their rainforest land from logging by Malaysian company Samling.

‘The police and the company workers were very rude and did not negotiate with us,’ a Penan spokesman said. ‘We couldn't do anything because we heard the police firing gunshots which made the situation really dangerous to us.’

The Penan had been blockading a logging road to prevent Samling from destroying one of the last remaining areas of pristine rainforest left in Sarawak. The Penan rely on this forest for their food and all their needs; without it they cannot survive as an independent and self-sufficient people.

Police dismantled the blockade on 4 April using chainsaws. The Malaysian authorities had announced in June 2006 that they would remove the blockade, near the community of Long Benali, and arrest four Penan leaders. However, after protests by Survival supporters and others around the world, they took no action. The blockade was first dismantled on 7 February this year, but the Penan rebuilt it in mid-March.

The Penan live in Sarawak, the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. The Penan are just one of the tribal peoples of Sarawak, but they are the only nomadic tribe.

How do they live? The Penan are nomadic hunter-gatherers. Although many have now been settled, about 300 Penan still lead a completely nomadic life in the forest. Even the settled Penan continue to rely heavily on the forest. The Penan have a gentle and egalitarian society without any hierarchy. Sharing is taken for granted in Penan society: there is no Penan word for 'thank you', and a hunter must not eat a single bite more than he gives to others, however small his prey. The forest is essential to the Penan, providing them with everything they need to survive. In particular, they rely heavily on sago, which they use for building houses, making baskets and to eat - the Penan love to eat it fried in pig fat and mixed with blood.

What problems do they face? Since the 1970s, all the tribal peoples of Sarawak have had their land taken to make way for logging, dam construction and oil palm plantations - driving them into towns where they are reduced to abject poverty. The Penan have been told by the government that they have no rights to land at all until they 'settle down' or start farming. The logging industry has a particularly devastating impact. The Malaysian government claims that Sarawak is being logged sustainably - but in fact its forests are being destroyed at one of the fastest rates in the world. As the forests are logged, the rivers are silted up, killing the fish. The game is being scared deeper into the few remaining forests. Since 1987, the Penan have been fighting back by blockading the logging roads - and suffering acute food shortages as a result. Many Penan have been arrested for holding these peaceful blockades but finally they are starting to see some results. Some of the companies are now agreeing not to log Penan forest, but the Penan need to stay vigilant as many such promises have been broken.

Write a letter in support of the Penan

Writing a letter is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help tribal peoples

Please feel free to use the following letter as a guide or write one of your own:

I am very concerned that the Samling logging company is planning to log one of the last areas of virgin rainforest left in Sarawak. This forest is home to the Penan who have never given permission for the logging to take place.

I urge you to ensure that no logging takes place on the Native Customary Land of the Penan people without their full and informed consent. I also ask you to make sure that the Penan are allowed to continue their peaceful protests against logging on their land without harassment and intimidation.

Please send your letters to:

YAB Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud
The Chief Minister of Sarawak
Office of the Chief Minister of Sarawak
22nd Floor, Wisma Bapa Malaysia
Petra Jaya
93502 Sarawak

Fax: + 60 82 441677

And if possible, please send a copy to:

Mr Yaw Chee Ming
Chief Executive Officer
Samling Strategic Corporation Sdn.Bhd.
Wisma Samling, Lot 296
P.O.Box 368
98000 Sarawak

Fax: + 60 85 410068

It is best to send your letter by post as there is no doubt this makes the biggest impact.
Alternatively, you can use the fax numbers provided, but please be aware that numbers are often changed, or machines unplugged. Email addresses are given only where there is a realistic chance emails will be read.

(From Survival International Org)



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