(Mulu, Sarawak/Malaysia) In a recent letter to Sarawak Premier Abang Johari Openg, the Penan communities of the Mulu region welcome the revocation of a 4,400 hectare oil palm concession by the Sarawak state government and are expressing their gratitude to the Premier for respecting their concerns.
The rare victory for Sarawak’s indigenous communities is the fruit of year-long community protests and a joint legal action by the Penan, Berawan and Tering communities in the region against a development that was seen to be threating their livelihoods and the adjacent UNESCO-listed Gunung Mulu National Park. The communities celebrated their victory with celebrations both in Mulu and in Miri, a coastal city in Sarawak.
“The Penan are the protectors of the forests and are grateful that the plantation development plan is now history,” says Komeok Joe, head of the Penan organisation KERUAN.
The communities’ case against Radiant Lagoon, a palm oil firm formerly linked to a son of Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, and the Sarawak state government was going to be heard by a local court when, in a surprise move, the Sarawak government revoked the Radiant Lagoon 4,400 hectare oil palm concession. The company had – apparently without permit – already started with massive logging operations in the area. Following strong community protests, the company withdrew and left the logs to rot in the forest.
In the same letter, the Penan are asking the Premier in their letter to abandon a planned mega-infrastructure project in Mulu, the so-called Mulu Mini Township. These plans, dating back to the 1990s, include several major construction projects such as a Mulu township, a water treatment plant, an airport expansion and a road access. Apparently, the plans have been revived and communities have been notified about the extinction of their native customary rights for a water treatment plant that threatens the water cycle of the world famous Mulu cave system. “Now we have to stop the next threats to our land and Gunung Mulu National Park,” says Willie Kajan, a Berawan activist from Kampung Melinau in the Mulu region. «Any negative impact on the Sungai Melinau river and the UNESCO World heritage site must be prevented.»
An assessment submitted by the Bruno Manser Fund to IUCN/UNESCO in August 2022 points out the potential negative impact of these projects on the UNESCO-protected Gunung Mulu National Park.