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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Alleged burning of houses in forest reserve

Call to probe alleged burning of houses in forest reserve
19 October, 2006
Kota Marudu: The State Government has been urged to explain alleged dirty tactics used by its enforcement agency in removing houses belonging to 20 local families and their rubber plantations in a forest reserve at Kampung Kaindaingan, Sugut early this month.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan) Sabah Deputy Chairman, Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, said the people want to know whether there was a directive to torch the houses and poison the rubber plantations of the families who had been residing in the area for more than 17 years.

"I believe you all have a case," said Dr Jeffrey during a dialogue with the affected families at Marudu Inn in Goshen, near here, Wednesday.

During the dialogue attended by nearly 100 people, the villagers, mostly from here, claimed when they started to open up the land in 1988 to plant rubber trees, nobody had prevented them from doing so.

In fact, Jeffrey was told that the villagers had also obtained the Land Application (LA), apart from getting a letter from the Assistant Collector of Land Revenue (ACLR), as well as the then Sabah Rubber Fund Board, which further strengthened their belief that they had done nothing wrong.

However, early this year, the villagers said they received a notice from the Forestry Department ordering them to move out or risk prosecution.

Village head, Salipat K, told Jeffrey that on Oct 2 this year they were told that an inspection was being conducted and that they should move out from their houses and hide to avoid arrest.

"I was very surprised to find out all our houses and belongings had been burned to the ground and our rubber trees died," he said, adding they believed trees were "injected with poison".

"All these years the department's officers have been coming in and out of our place but they never said anything," they said, adding they believed the action was related to an application from a "big company for 42,000 hectares there."

At the height of the commotion, the villagers said seven people were also arrested, some convicted and currently serving jail sentences for encroaching into a forest reserve.

One of those who was remanded called for assistance from Jeffrey to stop the Forestry Department from auctioning his vehicle that he used to fetch water, among other things.

He said the vehicle was seized because it was found inside the forest reserve.

At this juncture, Jeffrey managed to contact Forestry Director Datuk Sam Mannan in Sandakan on the phone to ask about the case.

He said he was told that he (Sam) needed to investigate the matter first before making any commitment.

"He asked us to write a letter but I have asked him to postpone the auction first," said Jeffrey, adding Keadilan wants those jailed to be released as soon as possible.

Jeffrey claimed similar problems were happening all over Sabah, which he said must be addressed fairly by the Government since it involved natives who depended solely on the forest to make their living.

"Even foreigners are getting special treatment than natives in some cases of relocation from government land," he claimed.

In this respect, Jeffrey said Sabah Keadilan would be studying the case from the legal perspective.

Also on hand were former assemblymen, Dason Gaban, Bugie Galadam, Karim Adam, Edward Linggu, Sabah Keadilan Information chief, Haji Ismaily Bongsu, liaison secretary officer, Kanul Gindol and Keadilan Kota Marudu division chief, Anthony Mandiau.

Source : Daily Express

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