Police arrest Penan as tribe blockades dam site

"Last year the Penan protested at the dam site for 36 days"
"Last year the Penan protested at the dam site for 36 days"
© SCANE/Survival

Tensions are mounting at the Murum dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Yesterday police arrested one man and dismantled Penan shelters. More than 100 Penan are currently blockading the dam site. The Penan, whose forest homes are due to be flooded, are demanding greater compensation, and more of the forest to be protected so they can continue to hunt and gather in their resettlement villages.

The arrested man, Ngang Buling, is the Chairman of Peleiran Murum Penan Affairs Committee (PEMUPA), which was formed by the Penan to defend their rights in the face of the dam project. The 46 year old was held for nearly 24 hours, and the police have said more arrests are likely.

Reports from the area state that police fired into the air, threatening and scaring the protesters. A large number of Penan are then believed to have offered themselves up to be arrested, along with Ngang Buling. Police are reported to have told protesters that general armed forces (PGA) and police reinforcements will be sent to the dam site

Approximately 1,400 Penan have been told they must move to make way for the Murum dam, the first of 12 new dams that are planned across the state of Sarawak. Penan from one village, Long Wat, have already moved to one of the resettlement areas, but the remaining villages are holding out for more land and compensation.

Last October the Penan blockaded the dam for 36 days, before dismantling the blockade after they were told the government would only consider their demands if they stopped protesting. However, the authorities have not honoured their promises and the Penan’s demands have still not been addressed.

Two weeks ago, in a move that has shocked observers, the impoundment (flooding) of the dam was started, without informing the Penan, whose homes and ancestral forests will be submerged. It is estimated that it will take a year for the reservoir to fill.

Speaking from the protest, Lugang Usang, Secretary of PEMUPA said,
‘It is not true that we Penan do not want change or to improve ourselves. But don’t impose development (e.g. the dam project) on us. Our customary land, our ancestral burial grounds, our rivers and forest were taken away from us and now the government denies and intimidates us. These are criminal acts of the government that make our lives miserable.’

Survival International is calling on the Malaysian government to halt the impoundment of the dam until the demands of the Penan have been met, and they have given their free, prior and informed consent to the resettlement process.