The Orang Asli must be protected. No "If's", No "But's"!

Orang Asli protest alleged Kelantan gov't land grab
Nigel Aw 11:52AM Apr 15, 2012

Some 300 Orang Asli today gathered outside the Kelantan Menteri Besar's office in Kota Baru to protest the state government's continued silence over what they say is a land grab of their ancestral grounds.

Gathering as early as 9am, the Temiar Orang Asli from 26 villages donned their traditional headgear and unfurled banners reading "The Orang Asli have awakened to the government's cheating" and held up placards reading: "Orang Asli are suffering" and "We want our ancestral land to be gazetted".

The Orang Asli are upset with the PAS-led state government for issuing logging licences where their ancestral lands sit, on top of separate encroachment from the Ladang Rakyat programme, a state agriculture programme.

The protest today is the third civil disobedience action by the community since January as they say that the state government has ignored their plight.

On Jan 4, the Orang Asli had set up blockades on the main roads into their villages to prevent loggers from trespassing, but abruptly called this off after being assured that the state government will address the matter within two weeks.

However, the Orang Asli attempted to put up the blockade again on Jan 28 after failing to receive any response, resulting in 13 of them being arrested and the blockade burnt down by police.

No uniformed police presence was spotted at the peaceful demonstration today which lasted for about an hour.

However, the Orang Asli travelling to Kota Baru were briefly stopped by police at 4am and had their names and photographs taken.

‘Stop wrecking our lands’

The protesters later handed over a memorandum which was received by Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat’s special officer Zawawi Mohamad.

Among the demands are:

  • To cease all logging and state agriculture activities on Orang Asli customary land,

  • To revoke all licences granted to contractors to work on Orang Asli customary land,

  • To provide fair compensation for the damage done due to these activities,

  • To cancel any reserve status that overlaps with Orang Asli ancestral lands,

  • To recognise/gazette the Orang Asli customary land according to a community map drawn up by the locals, and

  • To cease the campaign of misinformation.

When contacted, Jaringan Orang Asli Semenanjung lawyer Yogeswaran Subramaniam said when the logging is completed, the lands will be alienated to private companies with the intention to convert them into an oil palm and rubber estate.

“This will cover a large portion of their land, I would say more than 50 percent of their ancestral land,” he said.

Legal action mooted

Yogeswaran said that if the state government still refuses to negotiate over the matter, the Orang Asli will commence legal action.

Nik Abdul Aziz has maintained that the land granted for logging is owned by the state government.

Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights observer Siti Zabedah Kasim, who was present at the protest, when contacted said this claim is flawed.

“Even though the land is not under the name of the Orang Asli they have been living there far longer than the state government has existed and this is called ancestral lands which are recognised by common law.

“We have had precedent cases in the peninsula where the court has recognised the rights of Orang Asli if it is proven that they have continuously occupied a particular piece of land,” she said.

The series of civil disobedience action began this year after the state government failed to follow through with its promises to halt all encroachment activites until the matter is resolved by a special committee, on top of compensation for trees and crops damaged by those activities, in a meeting with Nik Abdul Aziz on Feb 14 last year.

“When the promises were not fulfilled, several letters were sent to the menteri besar for another meeting but they were ignored and no reply was received,” said Siti Zabedah.

Wild goose chase

They were finally promised a meeting on Dec 11 last year, but on that day, the menteri besar failed to turn up and was instead represented by his special officer.

Another meeting set for Dec 28 last year with Deputy Kelantan Menteri Besar Ahmad Yaacob was also abruptly cancelled at the eleventh hour.

“The Orang Asli feel like they have been played out,” she said, adding that there were several other meetings that ended in cancellation.

Siti Zabedah said logging activities has intensified since January, and has adversely affected the livelihood of the Orang Asli living there.

“Their food supply is becoming worse. The river’s water is more concentrated than ‘teh tarik’, it’s so polluted that there is no fish. Vegetables along the river have died and now their lands are being taken away, with their plants and crops destroyed,” she said.

She also slammed the Kelantan government for producing a video featuring some Orang Asli individuals claiming that the community’s welfare was being taken care of instead of addressing their problems.

“How can Pakatan Rakyat help the Orang Asli when PAS is not setting a good example, we are surprised by this,” she said.

Additional reporting by Lim Hock Seng