MIRI: A longhouse chief has lodged a police report claiming that his house had been purposely fire-bombed by arsonists due to a land dispute that he and his longhouse folks are facing with regards to an oil palm plantation project.
Tuai Rumah Jambai Jeli, who is the chieftain of Rumah Jeli, Sibuti sub-district located about 100km from Miri City, claimed that he was being harassed and intimidated by people who were trying to frighten him and his longhouse folks over the land dispute.
Rumah Jeli is one of five Iban longhouses in Sibuti that are currently being embroiled in a court case with an oil palm company.
The company wanted to develop the place into an estate after it had secured provisional lease from the state authorities.
The longhouse folks are protesting against the development plan, saying that they had native customary rights (NCR) land over the area. The case is now at the appeal stage in the Miri High Court.
Apart from Rumah Jeli, the other longhouses involved in the dispute are Rumah Rajit, Rumah Jambai, Rumah Edward Ekau and Rumah Duat.
Jambai, on Monday, lodged a police report here that his house had been fire-bombed by some people who were trying to intimidate him into submission.
“At about midnight on March 22, my house was damaged by a fire. The fire is the work of (suspected) arsonists.
“I believe that I am targeted because of the land dispute with the oil palm company,” he claimed in his police report.
Jambai claimed that he had found broken bottles inside the compound of his house in the aftermath of the fire.
He suspected that someone must have thrown the bottles filled with fuel and lit with a fuse.
There were no one in his house when the incident happened.
In his report, he said that he and his longhouse folks, together with the other four longhouses, had been involved in a proloned tussle with an oil palm company for the right to the land where they were now living in.
Jambai said that this was the second time that he and his family had been harassed.
“On Dec 22 last year, my car was set on fire also by (suspected) arsonists who are trying to frighten me and my family,” he claimed.
Jambai said the affected longhouse folks had erected blockades to stop the plantation workers from entering their land but the Miri police had dismantled the blockades following complaints from the plantation company.
Jambai and his longhouse folks had sought the help of Miri-based human rights watchdog group – Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) – for help.
Brimas executive director Mark Bujang yesterday told the police to investigate the cases and to give protection to Jambai and the other longhouse folks.
“We in Brimas condemn the use of violence and intimidation against the native people,” he said.
“The use of force against the natives in land disputes must not be tolerated and those trying to harass these natives must be punished accordingly.”
He said they viewed such incidents seriously as they might result in fatal attacks.
Bujang urged the state authorities to stop issuing development permits on land where the natives had NCR status if the natives were not keen to have their land developed.