After broken vows, Nanga Seridan natives blockade to protect their land

After broken vows, Nanga Seridan natives blockade to protect their land

Rumah Labang longhouse folk allege trespass by oil palm estate firm’s workers

MIRI – A blockade by Sarawak natives in Nanga Seridan, Baram, is gathering steam as more arrive to protest against the alleged trespass on their land by workers of an oil palm plantation company.

The blockade is led by residents from the Rumah Labang longhouse who have claimed native customary rights (NCRs) to the Nanga Seridan area, which was reportedly removed from a proposed plantation project in 2021.

Now, however, land encroachments have begun, leading to the blockade which began a few days ago, according to Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) representatives who visited the blockade yesterday to check on the natives’ welfare.

They told The Vibes that the first few natives began gathering a few days ago, and more have been arriving since then. The natives have put up barriers on a road and are manning the blockade constantly to prevent plantation workers from advancing further into their land.

Sarawak SAM ground coordinator Jok Jau Evong told The Vibes that the natives’ protest has been peaceful and no physical confrontation with plantation workers has been initiated.

Nanga Seridan is a forested area located in the Tinjar sub-district, about 150km from Miri city.

SAM president Meenakshi Raman, meanwhile, said the Rumah Labang dwellers have evidence of their native right to the land since 1954. The evidence includes farms, rubber smallholdings certificates, graves, and birth certificates of community members that prove their births in the 1950s.

She also outlined uncertainty and false hopes the natives there have had to live with since before 2018, when they were first informed of the proposed plantation. They registered their objections even then, and there was no encroachment throughout the movement control order during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the natives informed SAM that encroachments into the Rumah Labang native customary territory began in February without any prior consultation.

Trees were felled to construct roads and drainage, causing losses to the natives’ property and crops, including their rubber trees. One of the community members has lodged a police report, Meenakshi said.

The natives claim that all this while, they had been participating in dialogues with the project’s proponent in sessions organised by the Beluru district office.

Other state government agencies had also been present at these dialogues, which led to an announcement by Marudi assemblyman Datuk Penguang Manggil on March 17, 2021, that the company had agreed to remove Rumah Labang and Long Sepiling from the plantation area.

Prior to that, in November 2018, the Sarawak government had pledged in the state assembly that areas with valid NCR claims would not be included in the project.

“However, it seems that all these efforts do not provide sufficient protection for the Rumah Labang NCR territory,” Meenakshi said. “They have tried to talk to the company management, the local elected politicians, the state agencies like the Land and Survey Department, the local district council, and other agencies.

“However, the company has sent workers and heavy equipment and has bulldozed the land to build roads and drains,” she said, leaving the longhouse residents with no choice but to start physical protests.

Given the earlier promises made that Rumah Labang would not be included in the plantation project, the departments and agencies involved must explain the company’s actions to encroach and clear the land, she added.

– The Vibes, June 20, 2023

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