Orang Asli make historic protest at Johor assembly

Several hundred Orang Seletar made a historic protest outside the Johor state assembly in Kota Iskandar, Johor, yesterday to voice their anger over the transfer of their ancestral land to developers of the Iskandar Malaysia project along the Johor Straits.

The protesters from eight villages gathered outside the state legislature at 11am before proceeding to the Sultan Ismail building to handover a memorandum to Johor Menteri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman.

Shouting slogans and singing traditional songs along the way, they waited for the MB's arrival at the building's entrance.

The villagers, also known as Orang Laut, are the original settlersof the south Johor region, living along the straits as well as along the Johor River and Pulai River.

They are unhappy that their land has been handed over to the Iskandar developers "without their knowledge or consent" a representative of the Orang Seletar said in a statement yesterday.

The development has also destroyed the coastal regions and polluted the waters that the Orang Seletar depend on for survival, he said.

"Kampung Bakar Batu, the burial ground of our ancestors, has become the property of a public company.

"The company is a subsidiary of developer Iskandar Investment Bhd. How did this happen?" says the memorandum.

Livelihood destroyed

The destruction, beginning at Danga Bay to the west of Johor Baru and stretching to the Iskandar project, has devastated the mangrove forest and the marine life there that had provided the livelihood for the Orang Seletar.

"For example, the mouth of Skudai River, which we call Pulau Kecil, is now the site of a new luxury bungalow. Before this, the place was a mangrove forest that was a source of our river catch," the memorandum says.

The document lists all the issues related to the "uncontrolled development" of the region and calls the infringement into their rightful land as unconstitutional and "unacceptable".

"The Orang Seletar are the original settlers of Johor. We have a right to our ancestral land. We refuse to be treated like squatters or immigrants."

According to the Orang Selatar representatives, about 500 people took part in the protest.

After an hour of waiting, they were met by state executive councillor Ahmad Zahrri Jamil, to whom they handed over the document after reading it out in full.

"He didn't comment much, but promised us that he would hand the memorandum to the MB and that the issue will be discussed," said the representative.

He added that opposition leader and Skudai assemblyperson Boo Cheng Hau also met with the protesters and listened to their complaints.

The peaceful protest ended at 1.30pm.