(LONG AJENG / SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) In a joint action, representatives from a dozen Penan communities of Sarawak’s Upper Baram region have stopped the bulldozers of Samling, a Malaysian logging giant that is rapidly encroaching into Sarawak’s last primeval forests. According to community sources, a blockade was erected on 9 September on a logging road deep in Sarawak’s interior near Batu Siman, one of the state’s iconic mountain ranges in the middle of a planned protected area.
Pictures are showing around 40 Penan on a Samling bulldozer that has been brought to a halt and decorated with posters saying “Warning to Logging Companies – This forest is a Penan traditional territory. Do not encroach on our land and our rights.” Posters carried by Penan community representatives are saying “Stop the Chop” and “Mai Teveng Kayeu Me' ” (“Don’t cut our trees”).
In a joint letter to Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari, twelve community leaders are requesting urgent government action to stop Samling from destroying the last primeval forests in the Upper Baram region, an area that has been designated to be a protected area. Last year, the International Tropical Timber Organization approved a Malaysian government project, informally named the “Baram Peace Park”, which aims to protect and sustainably develop the region with enhanced community participation.
“We call on the Sarawak state government to safeguard Sarawak’s last remaining primary forests and respect the communities’ clear will to keep these forests intact”, said Lukas Straumann, Director of the Bruno Manser Fonds, a NGO based in Switzerland.
The Long Ajeng blockade is the latest development in an ongoing stand-off between a number of indigenous communities and Samling, a Malaysian timber giant with its headquarters in Miri, Sarawak. Since the end of last year, communities in other Samling concessions in the region repeatedly complained about a lack of due consultation by Samling over the PEFC certification of timber logged in their community forests.
Samling are denying all allegations of wrongdoing. Instead of engaging in an open policy dialogue on their operations, they chose to sue Save Rivers, a Sarawak civil society organization, for defamation.
Update from 15 September 2021:
The current logging is not taking place in the designated protected areas (core zone), but in primary forest areas in the buffer zone of the planned "Baram Peace Park". A current BMF map shows the location of the blockade in the Baram Peace Park.