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Sunday October 5, 2008

Natives reject plan for oil palm project

MIRI: Some 900 natives from the Berawan-Tering ethnic group in interior northern Sarawak have rejected a proposal by a private land development giant to acquire 80,000ha of their native land to be turned into an oil palm plantation.

The natives, from Long Berawan in the Baram district some 300km inland from here, came to Miri yesterday and, after a two-hour meeting with the company’s representatives, officially announced that they had rejected the proposed 60-year agreement to take over their land.

Former Baram District Councillor Philip Ube, who represented the natives, said the land in Long Terawan belonged to a population of 1,000 Berawan-Terings, among the smallest native groups in the state.

“Last year, about 10% of the population signed the proposal with the company to give up their land for the next 60 years but today, the other 90% rejected the proposal.

“We (the 90%) are worried that the 60-year agreement will result in us eventually losing our rights over the land for 120 years as the company also wanted the right to renew the agreement after the 60 years were up.

“We are also worried that if we give up our land, we will lose our food resources and, once the land is turned into an oil-palm plantation, the social structure will be changed,” he told a press conference here. Ube said the company had offered the natives jobs as labourers but “we don’t want to end up as labourers on our own ancestral land.”

In Kuching, Sarawak’s Land and Survey Department denied issuing eviction orders to 10,000 people from 13 Kedayan-Malay villages in Bekenu, Miri, as reported last week.

Its director Sudarsono Osman clarified that letters had been sent by a private company’s lawyers to eight individuals warning them not to trespass on the company’s land.

“The letters are not eviction orders by the department as alleged,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Sudarsono said the land in question, Lot 3935 Lambir Land District and Lot 4448 Sibuti Land District, was alienated and issued with a provisional lease to a company in February 2001 for an oil palm plantation with an area of 1,180ha and 550ha respectively.

He said the matter was now in court and would to be heard on Nov 19.

Last Saturday, the villagers claimed that they were being evicted from their land to make way for an oil palm plantation.

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