Hornbill Unleashed

February 8, 2014

Over 100 days, villagers continue protest to stop Baram Dam

Anna Chidambar

It has not been easy for the Baram villagers but they are determined to continue the protest to halt the construction of the Baram Dam.

(Jan 30) is the 100th day of their protest and they are staying put at the sites where they had mounted two blockades. The blockades were first erected on Oct 23 last year, just as a key meeting was held in Geneva to discuss Malaysia’s human rights record where UN member states had urged Putrajaya to respect the rights of the natives.

Vowing to protect their ancestral lands from the construction of the proposed RM4bil hydroelectric dam in Ulu Baram, hundreds of villagers have, on rotation basis, manned the two blockade sites – KM15 and Long Lama for the past 99 days with only one common objective in mind – stop Baram Dam.

While the determination and spirit of the villagers remain strong, the same cannot be said of their make-shift camp at the sites. After exposure to the weather for more than three months, the tents housing the blockaders have started to leak badly.

The villagers are in the process of improving their camps with materials which are more durable, a tell-tale sign that they are not going to stop until their grievances are heard and some form of agreement reached.

According to Peter Kallang, chairman of the Save Rivers civil society coalition, no heavy machineries to carry out any work on the dam had been spotted during this period as the villagers had kept careful vigil in the vicinity of the blockades.

The Baram Dam project that has been approved by the state government and undertaken by Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) is located between Long Naah and Long Kesseh, some 200km inland from Miri.

Some 20,000 indigenous people from 26 villages will be displaced by the proposed dam.

“No representatives from the BN government or the relevant authorities have attempted to engage the villagers to listen to their plight. The only time SEB personnel entered the area was before Christmas last year to deliver ‘bribe money’ of some RM3,000 to selected leaders of affected villages. The group made a stop-over at the blockades,” Kallang said.

As they have to harvest crops as well, the villagers took turns with about 20 people each day to man the blockades. The gatherings swelled to more than 100 people during occasions when they decided to hold protest marches.

“The government doesn’t want to listen to us at all. All the bargaining is useless and pointless. Because only one man – the chief minister (Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud) controls everything. We hope the local leaders will not be fooled and try to spilt us,” Kallang said.

According to him, a Penghulu had called for a meeting last Saturday for six villages located at the downstream of the proposed Baram Dam. Part of their land was earmarked to be used to construct an access road to the proposed dam site.

“Penghulu Mering Ibau from Uma Bang asked three representatives from each village to attend the meeting, to discuss the disadvantages and advantages of the proposed dam. He also asked the villagers to state their demand should the Baram Dam be built or not.

“I was not invited but I went to the meeting. Majority of the people made it very clear that they do not want the dam as they do not want to lose their lands. The villages are left out from the development of the main roads also as there is no road connections to the villages,” he added.

Speaking from prior experience from Bakun Dam and Murum Dam, Kallang pointed out that people living below the dams do not enjoy electricity supply although the hydro dam is located nearby.

“There is no point in bargaining as the chief minister seems to have decided. He is also the Finance Minister, Planning and Resource Management Minister so he can approve any plan and the villagers have no bargaining power.

“Just like in the Bakun incident, the Bakun Development Committee was set up with locals involved but only three acres of land was approved per family at the end despite the demands of the committee. The voice of the people in the Baram area, living downstream of the dam, although not displaced by the project, should also be taken into consideration by the state government,” Kallang added.

However, he cautioned that trying to bargain was indirectly supporting the idea of the dam and hoped the local leaders would listen to the people and not try to split the villagers into factions,” he added.

1 Comment »

  1. This is a tough test of defiance. How long the will of the protesters will hold ? I hope they will succeed to achieve what they really want as a race,community and a rightful place as any other citizen of Malaysia. I hope all Sarawakian will join in a chorus to support their protest for preservation of their race,way of life and cultures. They just need to live in peace in their own environment and need not want any party to invade and trespass into their ancestry land.. This is a nation of law not ruled by thuggery, gangsterism and godfathers.

    Comment by 21st.century man — February 8, 2014 @ 1:57 PM | Reply

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