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Published: Wednesday October 22, 2008 MYT 4:48:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday October 22, 2008 MYT 6:32:57 PM

Villagers, church authorities in standoff in Malacca

MALACCA: Some 100 villagers of Kampung Ayer Salak, Bukit Rambai had a stand off with Malacca church authorities who had ordered the demolition of a RM1 mil mansion built illegally on church land.

The incident happened at about 10am on Wednesday when Bishop Rev Paul Tan, accompanied by several priest and officials, arrived at the almost completed home to oversee the demolition work.

However, the situation became tense when a group of villagers from the mostly Teochew Catholic community prevented demolition work from being carried out and became unruly.

State executive councilor for tourism Datuk Seet Har Cheow, whose home is located in village, attempted to mediate a settlement between the two parties.

However, police were later called in to defuse the tension when both parties refused to back down.

At the centre of the controversy was the construction of a three-storey 18-room mansion by the Lim family without approval from the church or local authorities.

Kampung Baru Ayer Salak is home to about 120 Teochew Catholic families who settled in the area in the early 1800s.

About 180ha of the village land was handed over to the church in the mid 1840s with a well-known St.Mary’s Church constructed in 1886. At a press conference later, Paul said the Lim family had submitted a request to rebuild their single-storey semi-wooden home last Oct 29.

Although agreeing in principle, he noted that the family had gone ahead with construction without getting prior approval from the church or the local government authorities.

He added that three stop work notices were issued against the family between April and Jun including the city council issuing the church and building owners notices to demolish the structure.

Unfortunately, the church was left to its own devices to comply with the notice to demolish the building on Wednesday morning, he said, adding that no local council officers were present.

He said that the action needed to be taken as he did not want to the church to be seen condoning something illegal or practicing double standard when dealing with the wealthy.

“It is not a situation where the church is depriving poor people to have the opportunity of a roof over their heads,” he said, adding that the proposed home cost more than a million.

He noted that the church had on previous occasions given approval to two other homeowners to renovate or rebuild part of their homes.

Owing to the unruly crowd, he said that plans to demolish the structure would be temporarily deferred.

Meanwhile, Peter Lim, 41, a businessman, said it was unfair for the church to impose restrictions on villagers over the reconstruction of their homes.

“Our forefathers were pioneers who opened up the land for cultivation here more than a 150 years ago.

“Why should we need their (church’s) permission when homes constructed previously were not required to get permission?” he asked.

He claimed that Paul had refused to meet with his family to resolve the matter although he had be invited to several times.

He said that the family would consider taking the matter to court if the deadlock continues.

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