Indigenous people from Malaysia's eastern state of Sarawak have travelled thousands of kilometres from their home in central Borneo to the capital Kuala Lumpur to protest being thrown off their land.
KUALA LUMPUR: Indigenous people from Malaysia's eastern state of Sarawak have travelled thousands of kilometres from their home in central Borneo to the capital Kuala Lumpur to protest being thrown off their land.
They claim they are being forced out of their ancestral lands by a hydroelectric dam project without proper resettlement and compensation.
The group marched from the police headquarters to Parliament House, demanding the government to halt all works at a hydro electronic dam in Murum, central Sarawak.
The protesters said they represent some 1,500 Penan and Kenyah natives in Sarawak who are adversely affected by the Murum dam. They claim they have lost their homes and ancestral lands, and now their livelihoods, cultures and way of life are under threat.
The protesters said they were not properly consulted when the dam was built and now their villages are flooded. The food their ancestors used to forage from the jungle are all gone as the land is submerged, they claimed.
Native lawyer Abun Sui listed down their demands and warned that they will not hesitate to bring the state government to court if they are not met.
He said that the basic demand is 500,000 ringgit in cash and 25 hectares of land per family. He added that the Malaysian government promised many things but it was reported only to the media, without any direct correspondence with the Penan.
Murum dam is part of a series of hydroelectric dams planned by the Sarawak government to power up the country's poorest state to attract new industries.
12 dams are to be built by year 2020, which will see large chunks of Sarawak's rainforests submerged and thousands of natives resettled.
Environmental groups and NGOs have warned of massive ecological damage by these hydroelectric projects.
Peter Kallang of the Save Rivers group said: "You cannot say this is a Sarawak problem, this is our national problem and if you look at the impact of a dam on the environment, this is an international problem because you're going to drown one of the most bio diverse parts of the world.
“What they are going to do is to destroy the whole thing… this damage is irreversible."
For now, the Penan have pledged to block access to the dam in a bid to raise awareness and galvanise public support to safeguard their lands.