Hajiji to look into plight of Murut villagers after logging of ancestral land

KOTA KINABALU: Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor will look into the plight of native Murut villagers whose ancestral land is being "taken away" under a company tasked to carry out sustainable forest management.

The Sabah Chief Minister said he has asked for a report from both the state Forestry Department and also the Lands and Survey Department on the matter before taking action.

"We will ensure that the (native) rights of the people are protected," he told reporters here on Sunday (Jan 29) after launching the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) students’ wing.

Hajiji was commenting on an appeal by villagers from Kg Salung and Kg Balantos in Sabah's interior Nabawan district who said that ancestral forest land for nearly eight generations was being taken away from them under the Forest Management Unit (FMU).

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Villager Basusah Anturi said he was given a third and final eviction notice to leave the land which he said had been their traditional source of livelihood for generations.

Anturi and other villagers highlighted their plight to The Star last week when they showed pictures of the tree felling and resulting polluted rivers.

The land under the FMU was now taken over by a company that has begun clearcutting works on the second class forested area.

Anturi, with other village leaders from Kg Salung and Kg Balantos, rallied to make their plight known and appeal for help from the Chief Minister.

The ethnic Murut villagers said their traditional land was earmarked under the FMU in 1997 and this had severely affected their traditional hunter-gatherer livelihoods.

They said they had written dozens of times to the authorities and different chief ministers since 2013 to return thousands of hectares of their native forest land, which also includes their ancestral burial grounds.

They continued using the secondary forest to hunt and gather produce, but things changed when the company took over.

According to them, it started felling trees, including over 150 fruit trees – among them decades-old durian trees – within the area from late 2017.

The villagers said the logging was carried out close to water catchment areas and had polluted as well as eroded the once-pristine rivers there.

"All we are asking is for the government to help us get back our native customary land. We have lived off it for generations," said Markus Tinghalou, the Kg Balantos deputy native chief.

"Our ancestral rights (to) the area are there with the presence of the burial grounds, settlements and fruit trees," he added.

The two villages have a combined population of about 550.

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