MIRI: The plight of some 20,000 rural natives uprooted by the proposed Baram Dam project in interior northern Sarawak have been brought to the attention of the United Nations (UN).
Several human rights organisations at state and national level on Thursday sent an official letter to UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, after the authorities tried to dismantle a blockade.
The blockade was set up by the natives along an access road to Long Kesseh and Long Naah about 200kms inland from Miri City a year ago to stop the clearing of forests.
The letter was lodged by Save Sarawak Rivers, SUARAM and JOAS (Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia).
JOAS president Thomas Jalong told Star Online there was an urgent need for the UN to convince the Malaysian government to call on state leaders to stop the RM4bil project.
"An attempt was made (two days ago) by teams of enforcement officers from several state agencies to tear down the blockade.
"These attempts to dismantle the blockade are part of the move to start clearing the forests for the start of construction.
"They are about to start logging the forests to clear the timber before opening the entire area for construction.
"How can this be allowed when the environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment studies have not even been concluded?
"The rights of the Baram natives must be respected," he said.
SUARAM's coordinator Serene Lim said it was unjust to force the Baram natives out because the land belonged to them and their ancestors.
"The villagers are merely defending the land they had lived on for centuries.
"The Government must protect the interests and welfare of the indigenous people who are the original settlers," she said adding that bringing the issue to the UN was a last resort.
The proposed dam, sited between Long Kesseh and Long Naah, is expected to uproot some 20,000 natives from at least 25 longhouses.
The dam project, meant to produce 1,000 MWs of electricity, will flood more than 30,000ha of forests - about half the size of Singapore.