Putrajaya and the Kelantan government have been urged to set up a joint commission of inquiry on the grievances of the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang against logging activities.
DAP veteran MP Lim Kit Siang, who visited the Balah Forest Reserve and the Temiar villages there yesterday, said he had seen first hand that the community are suffering because of logging activities.
"It is clear that the Termiar villages in the area have grievances over the destruction of their natural resources and water source.
"This has caused them to set up the first blockades in September and yet their grievances have not been taken seriously by the authorities," said the Gelang Patah MP in a statement.
He said that a joint commission of inquiry would allow both Putrajaya and the state government to identify the problems before formulating a just and equitable solution.
Lim said it was wrong for the authorities to treat the Temiar community as criminals for trying to protect themselves.
We owe them a debt
Moreover, Putrajaya and the state government must not forget that the Orang Asli community, in particular the Temiar tribe, played a pivotal role in the war against communist insurgents.
"Hundreds of Temiars were recruited by the British and later the Malayan government to form the Senoi Praaq force, which is a special unit in the Malaysian army tasked with tracking down communists guerillas in the dense forest along Thai-Malaysian border.
"Today, it is still common to meet with Senoi Praaq veterans among the elders in Temiar villages in Kelantan, as they are in their 60s and 70s," said Lim.
According to Lim, the Termiar people are the largest sub-ethnic group among the Orang Asli population, numbering around 25,000 people mostly residing in the headwaters of Perak and Kelantan.
"Access to forest resources are crucial for both economic and socio-cultural reasons. Gathering non-timber forest produce such as rattan and bamboo, provides supplementary incomes.
"From the socio-cultural and spiritual perspective, the Temiars rely on the forest as places of recreation and for practising religio-cultural rituals," said Lim.
Water source destroyed
Lim said that official records suggest that there are 118 Orang Asli villages in Kelantan of which 45 have access to electricity and all have access to treated water.
"But ground reports suggest otherwise. The quality of water supply in many Gua Musang villages has deteriorated in recent years, as the indiscriminate clear-fell logging destroyed the previously forested water catchment areas.
"Indeed, many villages now rely upon polluted and silted river as water source," said Lim, who added that large scale deforestation started around 2008 to 2010 and accelerated of late, mostly due to Kelantan's Ladang Rakyat programme.
He claimed that logging concessions have been given out without any form of tender with no or selective consultation with the local Orang Asli community.
He also urged Putrajaya to ensure that the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) is headed and staffed by Orang Asli.
"According to a recent parliamentary reply, out of a total 998 staffs in Jakoa, only 111 are Orang Aslis. Only one is in the 'management and professional' rank, the rest are all supporting or lower rank staffs," said Lim.
The Kelantan government has denied mistreating the Orang Asli community and said it has alienated 973 hectares of land as reserves for the Orang Asli and another 19,000 hectares for them to forage.
The Forestry Department said the blockades were impeding permitted logging in the area and obstructing the department's officers from doing their duty.
The department said by putting up the blockades in September, the Orang Asli community breached the June agreement it had with a representative of the Menteri Besar's Office.
The community had then dismantled a blockade set up in March, the department said.
However, Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan (JKOAK) chairperson Azmi Badun said community representatives were at the State Secretariat building in Kota Baru on Nov 2 for a promised meeting with the deputy menteri besar but the latter did not show up.
A total of 54 were arrested when the Forestry Department cracked down on the blockades in Pos Petei and Pos Bihai days after.-Mkini