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indigenous penan resume blockades

interhill logging | woodman | samling | limbang | rimbunan hijau (malaysia)

“My breast milk dries up sometimes because I do not get enough food. So I try to look for ubut and boil it with water to feed the baby. But even ubut is difficult to find. Everything has been destroyed by the companies.” Paya Ding, 29, Long Sayan.


“We asked for forest reserves. We asked them not to disturb the land surrounding our longhouses. We asked for a school for the village so that our children could go to school. We asked for clinics. Instead they gave us the logging companies.” Ajang Kiew, Long Sayan.


“In the past our life was peaceful. It was so easy to obtain food, you could even catch fish using your bare hands. Now the people are frequently sick. They are hungry. They develop all sorts of stomach pains. They suffer from headaches. Children cry when they are hungry. Several people, including children, also suffer from skin diseases caused by the polluted river.” Ngot Laing, Chief of Long Lilim, Patah River.


Sarawak, home to the indigenous Penan, has been ravaged over the past two decades by the logging of ancient forests for short-term profits by a number of Malaysian timber companies. These companies produce raw logs, plywood and wood chips in Sarawak for export to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Europe and the United States.


In the mid 1980s, thousands of Penan staged simultaneous peaceful blockades of logging roads in Sarawak to draw attention to their plight. People around the world were shocked at the magnitude of the devastation caused by the logging operations in Penan territories.


As a result, the government made many promises to the Penan- from forest reserves to infrastructure and from health care to seeds for cultivation. Yet one decade later, the Penan are more impoverished than ever, lacking decent housing and plagued by frequent food shortages and poor health. Their rivers are polluted with silt, oil spills, wood preservative chemicals and garbage disposed by the logging companies. The staples of their diet - game, fish, fruit and wild sago palms - are almost depleted, and they are struggling to adapt to a settled lifestyle and learn agricultural skills.


In early 2002, Penan groups began to simultaneously blockade logging roads for the first time in over a decade. Their demands include a halt to all logging activities on their native territory, a fair and transparent compensation process leading to better living conditions, and the recognition that they have the right to choose the development model that suits them best.


Friends of the Earth Malaysia continues to support the struggle of the Penan, and urges the public to do the same. Time may be running out for these peace-loving people, whose numbers are fast dwindling with only about 10,000 members remaining in Sarawak.


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