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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fight to keep Siamese village heats up as residents go to court

The 200-year-old Kampung Siam in Pulau Tikus, Penang, may be demolished to make way for future developments. – The Malaysian Insider pic, September 30, 2014.The 200-year-old Kampung Siam in Pulau Tikus, Penang, may be demolished to make way for future developments. – The Malaysian Insider pic, September 30, 2014.
Residents of the 200-year-old Kampung Siam in Pulau Tikus will fight against their eviction in court as efforts are being made to get the village listed as a heritage site.
Pulau Tikus assemblyperson Yap Soo Huey said 25 residents were served summonses earlier this month and they had recently filed their appearances in court.
"As this is now going to court, we will not be commenting further about the village's land transactions openly.
"We are still hoping that the developer will drop the case so we can go back to discussions," she told reporters at the village today.
She said the state government was fully behind the residents, with Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng regularly being updated on it.
Yap (pic, right) said she would request the National Heritage Department to gazette  Kampung Siam as a heritage site, in a move to save the village from being bulldozed.
Only with the gazette, the village could be preserved and protected from future development, she said.
"I will be writing to the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) to ask the authorities to review the status of the village and its surroundings to identify the cultural significance of the area.
"We are doing this not because we are trying to save the physical aspects of the village. It is the village's cultural value that we are trying to maintain," she said.
Kampung Siam, which is now threatened by a proposed hotel project, has been home to Penang's oldest Siamese-Burmese community, spanning as long as six generations.
The community has its own cultural identity, and this includes the traditional Menora dance, which has been recognised as a living heritage.
Since April this year, residents have been concerned after they were given quit notices from the lawyer of developer Five Star Heritage Sdn Bhd.
The developer had also sent its application to the MPPP in April for the demolition of seven shops and 10 houses, to make way for a five-storey hotel and three shops or offices on the 2,681-square metre site.
The residents are now questioning the rezoning of the affected land from “cultural and religious” to commercial land for development.
The land was protected by trust after it was granted to the Siamese and Burmese communities by the East India Company on behalf of Queen Victoria in 1845.
The grant stated that the land was to be used for the benefit of the communities' descendants, who are among the affected village residents today.
Yap said last week that the land was classified in the 1970s as "cultural and religious" but the MPPP Planning and Development Control Policy that was published in 1996 indicated that the village had been zoned as “commercial”.
Following reports of the residents' predicament, Senator Datuk Boon Som Inong, who is of Thai descent, visited the village yesterday and urged the Penang government to use its power over land matters to save Kampung Siam by declaring it a heritage village.
Yap hoped Boon could use his position to support the residents' effort to get their village gazetted as a heritage site.
"I am not trying to pass the buck but gazetting a heritage site comes under the federal government.
"As far as the state is concerned, neither the MPPP nor the government has granted the developer any approval for the proposed development in the village," she said.
Posters with slogans against the planned development seen at a stall in Kampung Siam, Pulau Tikus, Penang. – The Malaysian Insider pic, September 30, 2014.Posters with slogans against the planned development seen at a stall in Kampung Siam, Pulau Tikus, Penang. – The Malaysian Insider pic, September 30, 2014.Yap also urged Barisan Nasional parties like Gerakan, which has taken an interest in the residents' plight, to support the gazettement.
"I am willing to share whatever information I have with them so we can help save the village," she said.
She also denied accusations by Penang Gerakan secretary Oh Tong Keong that she had been dishonest and withholding information from the residents about the village.
"He has given me 24 hours to clarify... I am surprised by his allegations.
"I have compiled a chronology of the transactions concerning the village land. I can have every item verified.
"I will be sharing this with the residents and businesses in the area so they will all know what has happened. We have been transparent all this while," she said.
Online news portal Free Malaysia Today earlier reported that Oh had given Yap a 24-hour ultimatum to clarify the land conversion status of a heritage Siamese-Burmese village, failing which, he would "reveal all about her misrepresentations” on the issue.
- TMI

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