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indigenous peoples fight to repel loggers

by PhilLee — last modified Sep 10, 2009 04:55 PM

The future of Sarawak's indigenous Penan people looks bleak as they desperately try to save their land from loggers.

sarawak barricades-2The Penan have lived in the forests of Sarawak, a region on the island of Borneo governed by Malaysia, for generations. Now they are facing eviction by logging companies who bought their land from the government without consulting them.

In response, 13 Penan communities, about 3,000 people, began blockading the companies' access to the forest on August 20 in order to halt the transport of logs from their land.

"They are staging this protest now because most of their land is already gone, destroyed by logging and grabbed by the plantation companies," said Jok Jau Evong from Friends of the Earth in Malaysia.

"This is the last chance for them to protect their territory. If they don't succeed, there will be no life for them, no chance for them to survive," he added.

penan-sarawak-3-web.jpgOfficial figures say there are more than 16,000 Penan in Sarawak, including about 300 who still roam the jungle and are among the last truly nomadic people on Earth.

The Malaysian government argue that logging, clearing and then planting for oil palm is the best way to ensure future prosperity for the Penan people and the Sarawak state.


Friends of the Earth International disagrees. Research shows that the vast scale of palm oil production means that it cannot be sustainable - it destroys forests, increases carbon emissions, and forces local communities in developing countries off their land as we are seeing here in Sarawak.


And the logging and destruction of their land has not brought any meaningful benefits to the local communities - instead it has compromised their quality of life and has failed to lead to more jobs for the Penan, since the logging companies tend to higher Indonesian labour instead.


The Penan have said that they will dismantle their blockades if all logging and plantation operations are halted on their land.  They are also demanding that their Native Customary Rights (NCR) are fully recognized and that they are allowed to exercise self-determination with regards to any development plans that may affect them.

We're calling on governments to stop promoting plantations, halt the conversion of forests into biofuel plantations, recognize indigenous peoples’ territories and to instead promote community-based forest management and restoration.



Update:  The blockades were dismantled on September 16th on the basis that the State government would fulfill the demands made by the Penan communities. 

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