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Monday, January 30, 2012

Orang Asli allege land grab in Johor


A memorandum to Suhakam accuses JKOA of signing away ancestral lands to carpetbaggers and being unfair to non-Muslims
KUALA LUMPUR: Fed up with what they say are government-endorsed land grabs, the Orang Asli of Johor have gone to the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) for help.
A group of Orang Asli claiming to represent their community submitted to Suhakam today a memorandum complaining that the Orang Asli Development Department (JKOA) was secretly singing their lands away, neglecting their welfare and practising religious persecution.
The group of about a dozen people was led by Kampung Sungai Temun resident Eddy Salim, who spoke to reporters about the complaints.
Referring to Orang Asli land in Pasir Salam near the Johor River, he said: “The Aslis used to plant crops there, but we found out that the Land Office came out with a grant and gave it to someone else.”
He said he did not know how the land – which should come under JKOA’s control – could be silently signed over to a non-tribesman without the permission of the Orang Asli.
“If ordinary people want to get land, they have to go to the Land Office. But when the Orang Asli want land, we have to go to the JKOA.”
He alleged that many other Orang Asli villages in Johor were suffering Pasir Salam’s fate.
Much of these lands, he said, were being given away for real estate development, which meant destruction of the natural environment on which the Orang Asli depend for their livelihood.
A large part of the problem, according to Eddy, was that only two of the nine Asli villages in the state had been gazetted as indigenous land.
Even those two portions were not large enough for the residents’ use in their traditional economic activities, he said.
Another member of the group, Baboo Taching, said the ancestral land making up his village of Kampung Simpang Arang was only 163 acres large and had to cater to 600 residents. Kampung Simpang Arang lies close to the town of Gelang Patah.
“How can we live on such little land?” Baboo said. “How are we going to plant our crops? Fishing for crabs, snails and fish is so difficult, and we don’t even get compensation from the government.”
Kampung Bakar Batu resident Tony anak Dana said that the swamps near his village provided enough food for his family for many years before the government decided that they stood in the way of economic development and proceeded to clear away the mangroves before giving the land to developers.
He said he was now forced to scavenge the junkyards for metal and plastic scraps that he would sell to feed his family. “And we don’t get a moment’s peace. When we take the scraps, the police will take us to their station. They’ll tell us we’re trespassing. They also tell us we cannot fish around there.”
Last straw
Members of the group also alleged that JKOA treated the Muslim Orang Asli better than the non-Muslims.
“When we ask for allocations for boats or engines, we will never get them,” Tony said. “But then when the Aslis become Muslim, they will get these things right away.”
The last straw apparently came last Jan 19, when building contractors encroached on the Kampung Bakar Batu burial grounds.
Eddy said the contractors, armed with excavators, cleared a large portion of the land and appeared to ignore the Orang Aslis’ plea with them to stop the destruction.
He said he made a police report on the incident but added that the police had yet to take action.
Members of the group also alleged that their members of parliament and state assemblymen did not seem to be bothered with their problems. The legislators include Pulai MP Nur Jazlan Mohamed and Pengkalan Rinting state assemblyman Chia Song Cheng.
Eddy alleged that Chia was lying when he said he had a meeting with some Orang Aslis over their grouses.
Accepting the memorandum, Suhakam commissioner Mohammed Shaani Abdullah said the government must obey the terms of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Malaysia has endorsed.

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