BA JAWI: The Penan community here is suing the Sarawak government and timber giant Samling Plywood for logging in 15,000 hectares of the government approved Penan Peace Park bordering Indonesia.
Ba Jawi village headman Lija Agan on behalf of his community, lodged a collective lawsuit against the defendents in order to protect their livelihood and the ‘high-conservation-value’ tropical forest from being destroyed by logging.
Agan and three others are claiming that the Ba Jawi forests, which is in Sarawak’s Upper Baram region, have been used since time immemorial by their ancestors and must be urgently protected.
“About 200 years ago, our ancestors were living in and around Ba Jawi, exercising native customary rights over the land in Ba Jawi and its vicinity.
“They hunted and gathered food from the forests and lived on sago (uvut) as their staple food. We are presently exercising these rights over that same land,” said Agan in his statement of claim.
Agan said the community wants the logging licence issued to Samling Plywood, a subsidiary of the Malaysian Samling group of companies, to be rescinded.
His statement of claim notes that the license was issued by the Sarawak government to Samling Pywood in an “unlawful, improper, unconstitutional” manner and was therefore “null and void.”
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The Ba Jawi community’s lawsuit is the fifth such NCR case lodged against the state government by the Penan communities in Upper Baram since 1998.
The Ba Jawi area in the lawsuit is a key region of the Penan Peace Park, a self-administered conservation region covering 163,000 hectares which was proclaimed a nature reserve by 17 Penan communities in November last year. The area is twice the size of Singapore.
In Februray 2007, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei signed a tripartite agreement known as the “Heart of Borneo Declaration” in which they committed themselves to protecting the rainforests of central Borneo.
But the declarations has seen no protective engagement on the ground.
In fact in December last year Sarawak’s director of Forests Len Taliff Salleh wantonly dismissed the declartion and condemned Penan Peace Park labelling it as an “illegal” project that “tainted Sarawak’s image.”
In April this year, the Penans issued two written warnings against Samling subsidiary Jerinai to stop logging in the Ba Jawi but to no avail.
Instead the company had reportedly taken up “helicopter logging” within the communal boundaries of Long Ajeng in the Upper Baram region.
Samling, a Hong Kong-listed timber giant with its operational headquarters in Miri, Sarawak, has a track record of environmental destruction and illegal logging in a number of countries, including Cambodia, Guyana and Papua New Guinea.