Hundreds of Penans reportedly staged a blockade against the controversial Murum dam project on Wednesday, said a Sarawak NGO.
“The Penans set up the blockade on the access road to the dam at Seping River Bridge, about 40km from the Murum HEP dam project site.
“At least 200 Penans are at the blockade site carrying placards and banners bearing slogan ‘We Want Justice’, ‘We Demands Our Rights’, ‘Stop Murum Dam’, ‘Sarawak Energy (SEB) No Entry’.
“Some of the Penans had to travel for more than 100km from the remote village of Long Malim to join the other Penans at the blockade site.
“There were also some women and children joined the blockade,” said Raymond Abin, national coordinator for Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (Scane) in a statement last night.
According to Abin, the blockade, that has left construction vehicles heading to the dam stranded, will stay until the authorities meet them to discuss their plight.
The protestors come from eight villages along the river that will be drowned out when the dam is completed.
“The Murum dam will inundate and require the forced relocation of about 1,500 Penans, as well as the 18 Kenyah-Badeng families in Long Umpa village near Long Malim in Danum River, the upper course of Murum River,” said Adin.
Memo to Najib, Taib drafted
On Tuesday, he said, about 300 representative of the Murum Penan villages met to draft an open memorandum detailing their issues, problems and demands to Prime Minister Najib Razak and Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
“The community is protesting against the negligence of the government in responding to the demands as proposed by the Penans affected by Murum dam project,” Pelieran-Murum Penan Affairs Committee (Pemupa) chairperson Surang Alung was quoted saying.
Alung complained that the government had not consulted the community over all aspects of the Murum dam project.
“We have to stand up and assert for our rights as our problems, issues and demands have been neglected for so long by the government,” he added.
According to Adin, despite fierce resistance to the dam construction works has continued and is about 70 percent complete, and scheduled for completion early next year.
The dam, when filled, is expected to flood 24,500 hectares (245 km2) of Penan native customary land and forest.
Murum is the second mega-dam project after the highly controversialBakum dam, and the first of a planned series of twelve new dams.
The second, Baram, is already in the works and is expected to drown out another 26 villages and displace an estimate 20,000 locals.
‘Projects favouring Taib’
Spearheading the ambitious multiple dam project, that critics say will produce a surplus of electricity in the state, is the privatised Sarawak Energy led by Norwegian CEO Torstein Dale Sjotveit.
“Torstein Dale Sjotveit is currently facing strong rejection in Sarawak. He has not only already received lots of letters from angry communities asking him to immediately put the dam endeavour on halt, but also faces a corruption complaint in Malaysia,” alleged the NGO Bruno Manser Fund in a separate statement today.
“Natives accuse him of abusing his position as head of Sarawak Energy to favour companies linked to the family of Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
“Among other things, they criticise that Sarawak Energy granted a RM99 million (USD 31.8 million) power transmission line contract to Universal Cable, a company linked to Abu Bekir Taib, son of the Sarawak chief minister, without public tender.
“Universal Cable is a subsidiary of Sarawak Cable, of which Abu Bekir Taib holds 42 percent of the shares,” said the Swiss-based environmentalist group.