The state government tried to get out of the charge of land grab by claiming that their aerial map shows that the land taken away by the state was not NCR land according to their pre-1958 aerial photo. Did they have aerial photos for all NCR lands in Sarawak? How did they determine if a piece of land, which look like a jungle as any other, is cultivated or not? How do they determine if a piece of jungle is not a communal forest purposely left unplanted to allow collection of jungle products and hunting? In any case : has the government’s aerial maps been published for public scrutiny?
Associations: All parties must learn from Niah standoff
By STEPHEN THEN
MIRI: The Orang Ulu National Association, the Kenyah Association and the Sarawak Dayak National Association said there was a very urgent need for the State Government, private land developers and timber companies to hold discussions with them on disputes over native customary land.
Orang Ulu National Association Miri chairman Peter Kallang told Star Sarawak that what happened in Rumah Ranggang in Niah, 130kms south of here, showed the seriousness and extent of the problem, not just in the area but also in other parts of Sarawak.
He reckoned that the incident could have easily turned into a major tragedy because there were so many people involved.
He urged the State Government, land development companies, and the Land and Survey Department to heed the “danger” signs.
“The confrontation served as a clear warning that the issue has reached boiling point,” said Peter, who urged the State Government to initiate a discussion with all the relevant stakeholders and players.
He added that the natives of Sarawak were peace-loving people and that they only want to protect their rights over their ancestral land.
Peter was among the first people who got wind of the incident in ulu Niah.
More than 300 Rumah Ranggang residents were confronted by about 100 thugs armed with machetes and explosives on Friday and Saturday.
Over the past few weeks, the residents had put up barricades to stop workers of an oil palm company from entering land which they claimed belonged to them.
They are in dispute with the company over the sharing of benefits from oil palm harvests in the area over which they claimed to have native customary rights.
Miri police intervened on Saturday morning, dispatching dozens of personnel to the longhouse and arresting an alleged gang leader and seizing weapons.
The longhouse people said the thugs were hired by the company to intimidate and frighten them.
Police have questioned more than 50 of the thugs, all of whom were not from the area.
Peter, who is also Kenyah Association Miri chairman, yesterday said the main issue was the interpretations of state and native laws governing native customary lands and their boundaries.
“The interpretations are not the same. The state laws depend on aerial maps to determine if a piece of land was cultivated before 1958.
“However, for the natives, this is not accurate because it cannot correctly determine the actual boundaries on the ground.
“The natives have been cultivating their land for centuries and this was recognised by the British colonial government,” he said.
SDNU Miri chairman Ellison Lundang said the State Government must be more accurate in its perimeter survey of native customary land.
“To avoid future confrontations, the boundaries must be agreed to by the landowners and the state authorities.
“All agreements to jointly develop any area between the natives and private companies must be fully honoured,” he said.