Orang Asli: Forced by State Authorities to Pick Village or Forest

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Orang Asli told a town hall meeting yesterday that they were forced by the state authorities to choose between keeping their village land or the Kuala Langat North Reserve Forest (KLNRF).

Shah Shahar Koyok from Kg Pulau Kempas in Banting said his headman had told the villagers that a “higher authority” wanted them to pick between the two.

“That is a very disappointing threat because we love our forest. And it is not supposed to be either this land or the forest, this is an entire one (piece of) land on its own,” Shah said at the meeting on Pulau Carey.

“Where are the rights of the Orang Asli in land matters? Why are the Orang Asli constantly the victims?”

Nazir Sufari/TMI

A woman named Rosnah, from Kg Busut Baru, blamed the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) for piling pressure on the Orang Asli over the issue.

“Jakoa reported us and we had to give statements to the police. Our mobile phones were confiscated. Jakoa is an agency to protect our welfare, but where are they at critical moments?

“Please do not ask us to move for the sake of development. The forest and we are one,” said Rosnah.

Today’s meeting, chaired by state environment, green technology, science, technology and innovation, and consumer affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian, was held to hear public objections to the plan to degazette what’s left of the KLNRF.

The hearing follows 45,000 written objections sent to the state in February and March.

Hee said the Orang Asli had misunderstood a Jakoa officer’s police report that he had filed over fears for his safety as a threat.

“There are Orang Asli who said that they feel pressured and had even called the police.

“This is a misunderstanding. That happened because there were messages received in WhatsApp groups and posted on Facebook that claimed a Jakoa official had betrayed (the Orang Asli).

“As the official felt scared, he lodged a police report. It is then standard procedure for police to do an investigation.

“Therefore, the police had to bring people to the station to take their statements,” Hee said

Hee added that the state government cared deeply about Orang Asli welfare and had set up a committee of which he is chairman.

“The committee will resolve the land titles of the villages. We have allocated RM1.5 million for the process of land titles for 74 Orang Asli villages.”

Hee assured the Orang Asli that the Selangor government had yet to make a final decision on degazetting the KLNFR and would take into account everything raised at the town hall session, as well as the opinion of experts.

Kg Orang Asli Busut Baru committee chairman Samsul Asnin said the forest was valuable not only to indigenous people, but to the country and the future generations.

“Without the forest, the lives of Orang Asli will vanish – our culture, our traditions, our customs will be totally erased,” said Samsul, whose village sits just 50 metres from the border of the KLNFR.

“The government has a responsibility to protect what belongs to us. This mixed development is not suitable for our customs. In fact, it ruins our source of living. We hunt in the forest and it’s where we find our medical supplies and herbs.”

Samsu also said Orang Asli were puzzled as to why the only remaining forest reserve in the area should be destroyed.

“We reject any development project that does not bring any benefit to the Orang Asli community.

“We are not informed early and we are not informed with full and enough details about the impact of degazetting the forest.”

Another village head, Sari Senin, of Kampung Orang Asli Busut Baru, said Selangor should retract its proposal to degazette and develop the forest.

“When the whole world was threatened by this Covid-19 pandemic, this forest gave life to our community,” Sari said.

Orang Asli youth Faizul Kamal argued from the point of equality and rights to property.

The Kg Orang Asli Busut Baru resident said the forest was full of knowledge that was useful for future generations.

“I would like this forest to remain as a place of learning for future generations.

“I want to ask the government, when you teach students in schools to be lovers of nature and to experience nature, are you merely giving them false hope?

“Isn’t it better if the government continues programmes that educate the youth to nurture and foster the forest?”

Activists and non-governmental organisations were also present at the town hall to voice objections, urging the state to protect land and to recognise the fact that Orang Asli tended to fall into greater poverty than progress when land is taken away from them.

More than 7,200ha of land in Kuala Langat was gazetted as forest reserve in May 1927.

Only 950ha of forest reserve remains and that is surrounded by developments such as the Saujana Putra housing project, ELITE Highway, oil palm plantations and Gamuda Cove mixed development.

In February, the Selangor government announced plans to degazette the remaining land for a mixed development project. – TMI