MIRI: The Penan protesters in Murum cannot expect to be exempted from being arrested by the police if they continue with their moves to interrupt the Murum hydroeletric dam project, warns Senior Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing.
His warning came amid latest information that the police have started arresting protesters at the site yesterday.
Masing, who is also Land Development Minister, said the Penans could not expect to be given special treatment just because they were Penans.
He told The Star that the latest action by the police was in accordance with the law, which must be enforced equally to everyone regardless of ethnicity.
“The police’s recent action in Murum I hope will tell the Penans that they are not exempted from the laws of this land. If they break the laws, whether they are Penans or otherwise, they get the book thrown at them.
“The country is governed by the rule of laws,” he said when asked to comment on information released by Borneo Resources Institute coordinator Raymond Abin that the arrest of Penan protesters had started around 9.45am yesterday.
Abin said the Penans forwarded information from Murum that early yesterday the police from Belaga had arrived in several vehicles to the site where some 300 Penans were protesting against the impoundment of the dam reservoir.
According to him, these Penans are claiming that they are worried about their safety because Sarawak Energy Bhd had proceeded with the flooding of the reservoir despite the fact that there are still people from six villages in the Murum Valley who have yet to be relocated to resettlement schemes.
Abin said the protesters were demanding their rights to their terms of resettlement, land compensation and other conditions.
“Early in the morning, the police came to the blockade site and intimidated the protesters.
“A Penan man, Ngang Buling, was arrested at the site. A police inspector fired a shot into the air scaring the Penans who were resisting and protecting Ngang from being arrested.
“A group of policemen dragged and pushed Ngang into a white four wheel-drive vehicle,” he said, adding that he was told the police seemed to be heading towards Belaga.
Masing, when asked on this, stressed that the police enforced the law as deemed necessary.
When pointed out that there were real dangers that the impoundment would result in the remaining Penans inside the valley being cut off from the outside world by rising waters in view of the heavy rainfall now, Masing said: “I am sure SEB takes the landas season into account and did their projection with that in mind.”
Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang said that he had just arrived in Belaga from a working trip and would have to speak to the Belaga district officer to find out the latest happenings.
The Star called the Belaga police station several times from noon to late afternoon, but the personnel manning the counter said they could not give any information because their boss was on official trip elsewhere.
The Star was made to understand that Belaga police chief DSP Bakar Sebiu was on his way back from Bintulu, so his mobile phone was not reachable.
The Star however managed to get him at about 5.30pm and when asked for his comments, DSP Bakar said he could not confirm as to whether the Penan protester had been officially arrested.
“I have just arrived from Bintulu. I will have to check with my men and find out what happened today at the Murum site.”