Penans intensify blockade on Murum Dam construction

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The Penans’ blockade of the Murum Dam construction has been blacked out by much of the local and foreign media. What is really going on? Raymond Abin has the story.

Murum, Belaga (5 October): The Penans are intensifying their blockade on the Murum Dam construction and against Sarawak Energy Berhad with another linkage road to the dam site being blockaded on 4 October,

The road, which cuts through an oil palm plantation, was an old logging which is narrow and passable to four-wheel drive vehicles only. Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) has been using the road as an alternative route to the dam site for the past three days.

Since the Penans started the blockade last week, SEB (SEB) and other companies have stopped using the main access road to the Murum Dam project site. The major works on the construction of the dam have been paralysed over the last one week. The drivers have left home and let their cement tankers, lorry trucks and trailers with building materials had been hauled up and parked at the road side near the blockade site. The access to the construction site of the Murum hydroelectric dam project is totally blocked on all directions with the setting up of the second road blockade by the Penans.

The number of Penans involved in the blockade has increased from 200 to 320, comprising people from eight Penan villages and the Kenyah-Badeng village of Long Umpa near Long Malim in Danum River. Within these few days more Penans are expected to join as most of them have completed planting their hill paddy farms.

The Penans are setting camps around the blockade site at Seping River Bridge, about 40km from the Murum Dam project site. They are making makeshift huts ‘sulap’ covered with wild-ginger and palm leaves and plastic canvas. Those families came with their babies and young children while elderly parents are occupying an old logging camp workshop nearby the site. Some of them made their huts using the deposed old zinc sheets that they managed to salvage at the old logging camp site.

The village head of Long Luar, Madai Salo, said that all his family members are involved in the road blockade. He came with his wife, sons and daughters together with his granddaughter aged two months.

Labang Paneh, a representative from Long Wat village, stated that the blockade is a collective action by all the Penan villages affected by the construction of Murum dam project. “We will not remove the blockade or move out of here until our demands are resolved and fulfilled by the government,” he said.

The village head of Long Wat, Pinang Bo, blamed the Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) for being disrespectful to the customs of the Penan community in the Murum area. He said that SEB has intentionally destroying the most important Penan’s scared and historical sites of Batu Tungun, Batu Pebin and Batu Aseu at the project site and with lots more will be destroyed in due time by the construction of the dam.

The Penans reported that China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation and its Chinese contractor companies have told their Chinese workers not to leave their camps and the Murum Dam construction site as a safety precaution and to avoid any untoward incident with the locals.

To maintain security, peace and order at the project area, the government has deployed at least 20 police personnel from the General Armed Forces to the blockade site. Some of these police were stationed at the Murum Dam construction site.

The blockade has entered its tenth day since it was started on 26 September by the Penans from the villages of Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu and Long Malim, Long Peran and Long Jaik villages together with a Kenyah-Badeng village of Long Umpa.

The Penan communities are protesting against the negligence of the government to act and respond to their issues, problems and demands with regard to the construction of the Murum Dam. They are also protesting against Sarawak Energy Berhad for being disrespectful towards their customs by destroying their scared and historical sites without their consent.

Sarawak Energy Berhad, which is a Sarawak government-owned private corporation, has awarded the contract work of the Murum Dam project to China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation for an estimated cost of RM3 billion.

The progress of the construction work on the major structures of the dam is about 70 percent completed. When completed, the Murum Dam will flood about 24,500 hectares of native customary rights land and the forests of the Penan villages. The dam catchment area is 275,000 hectares which comprises mainly Pelieran, Danum and Usun Apau Plateau, the ancestral land of the indigenous communities in Sarawak.

The Murum Dam project is scheduled to be ready by 2013.

Raymond Abin is the national coordinator of the Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (Scane)

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