Villagers brave threats to harvest fruit trees
No longer able to hold back their anger at the continued encroachment of their native customary rights (NCR) land by a plantation company, 60 Iban villagers in Pantu in Sarawak’s Sri Aman division, braved heavy machinery and the police to harvest fruit trees on their land during the weekend.
Employees of Kumpulan Sama Sdn Bhd tried to stop the Iban landowners from harvesting their trees and even called in the police for help.
The company’s workmen attempted to use heavy machinery to block a truck carrying fruits from being driven away but to no avail. The police only watched and did nothing to stop the angry landowners.
"The company told the police that the Ibans were stealing their fruits, but how can we steal from our own land?" asked John Cobbold Losoi, a spokesperson for the Iban group.
The company has been working on a 60-year 7,000 hectares land-lease for the planting of oil palm in Sg Tenggang, Pantu. To-date, the company has cleared a total of 1,200 hectares.
The land is currently subject to NCR claims and 13 tuai rumah (village chiefs) have gone to court on behalf of their respective communities to claim their rights. They are also claiming compensation for the damage caused to their fruit trees and crops.
Their case is being handled by Kuching-based lawyer Dominique Ng Kim Ho, who is also state PKR chairperson and state assemblyperson for Padungan. The case will be heard in court next month.
Increasing number of conflicts
John said the company has also been trying to block a government-built feeder road from the Kuching-Serian Road, to try and stop natives from taking their fruits out to mills. The natives responded by setting up a human blockade near the company’s office last weekend.
He added that there had been no dialogue from the start between the landowners and the company. Only recently did the company express the desire to talk to landowners.
"But it’s too late now, as the matter has gone to court," he said. "We want Kumpulan Sama to stop their activities on the ground."
The Pantu area in Sri Aman has, in recent years, seen an increasing number of conflicts on the ground between companies given land-leases by the state government and NCR land-owners who are fighting encroachment on their land.
Malaysiakini learnt that landowners, unhappy with the long time taken by the authorities to help settle such disputes in several other areas in Sarawak, have started harvesting their fruit trees on what they claim to be their NCR land.
More than 170 cases involving NCR land have been referred to court in Sarawak.
After the recent tumble in prices, fresh fruit bunches are now fetching over RM500 per tonne.