GRIK: A group of Orang Asli in Perak has had enough of the constant logging in their jungle and are planning to start a blockade - similar to what happened in Kelantan last year - if the widespread tree-cutting continues.
Kamal Abain, 35, from Kampung Ralak, said heavy logging had been going on for years, making it hard for his people to rely on the jungle and destroying many of his ancestors’ graves.
“That used to be a burial ground,” Kamal said, pointing at a spot filled with fallen trees, next to a logging track.
“That is where we used to practise our culture,” he added, pointing to other bald spots. “We used to have fruits there and animals too. We are sad. Why isn’t the government telling us what they’re doing to our land?”
A logging truck approached as Kamal spoke, cutting our interview short. Its tyres cut into the soil, flinging earth and caked mud into the air.
More trucks would later pass the same way, filled with logs shaved of bark, leaves and branches.
A wide area, less than a kilometre from Kampung Ralak, had been cleared of trees. A large number of logs was stacked there.
“We are going to protest the logging ... We have decided on one way to defend our Orang Asli land,” Kamal told The Star reporters who visited the area with the Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka) last month.
When asked what that was, he replied: “A blockade.”
Kampung Ralak, located about 35km southeast of Grik, is one of an estimated 15 Orang Asli villages comprising more than 4,000 people within a widely spread indigenous settlement known as Pos Kemar.
Many Orang Asli rely on the jungle for their livelihood. Plants are used for a variety of things, including as medicine, food, clothing and building materials, and some animals are hunted for their meat.
They also depend on nearby rivers for their daily needs. But heavy logging can cause silting, leading to shallower and murkier water.
GPS coordinates showed that the cleared land was also less than 2km away from Peninsular Malaysia’s second largest lake, Tasek Temenggor.
A signboard by the logged area, presumably erected by Perak state forestry officials, showed details of a logging concession for 186ha from Feb 16 to Aug 15, 2017.
It also showed that the logging was slated for the Mukim Temenggor forest reserve in Hulu Perak.
It added that the logging would take place specifically on government land, with the words "Orang Asli Pos Khemar" on it.
It is not known how much more of the jungle is being logged, or how many logs have come from the site near Kamal's village.
But The Star noticed several fully-laden logging trucks coming out of the jungle to deposit their cargo at a site just 14km south of Kampung Ralak.
The Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa), the Hulu Perak district forestry office in Grik, and the Perak State Forestry Department in Ipoh did not reply to several queries on Kampung Ralak, Pos Kemar or the logging in the area.
Peka president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said the NGO would support an Orang Asli blockade.
However, she warned that such a move might face strong government opposition, which is what the Orang Asli in Kelantan faced in late 2016 and early 2017 when they set up several blockades in forests 60km from Gua Musang.
These blockades stopped loggers from going into the jungle for months before they were destroyed by authorities, and dozens of Orang Asli arrested by forestry officers. Two journalists covering the story there were also detained and later released.
Shariffa appealed to lawyers to help the Orang Asli defend their rights.
She said if the logging was not stopped in Perak, the same thing would also happen in more states.
"And that's it – our forests will be gone," she added.
Mohd Affendi Along, secretary of the Perak Orang Asli Village Network, said attempts to get answers from the Perak government have thus far failed.
He warned that if the authorities continued to ignore them, the Orang Asli would have no choice but to resort to setting up a blockade.
He did not say when this might be but added, “This is the only way to defend our rights and our land.”
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