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Dec 16, 2007

Tribes fight loggers to save Malaysian rainforests, but some natives welcome timber money

via Malaysiatoday
Associated Press

IN THE BORNEO RAINFOREST, Malaysia - Like a slithering red snake, the dirt road cuts through the jungles shrouding an endless row of hills.

At the first sign of humanity, the logging road stops abruptly: a crude barrier of branches tied together by dry palm fronds and a handwritten warning: "When We Say No, We Mean No."

In the middle of the ancient rainforest in Borneo, this simple blockade erected by a jungle tribe has become the symbolic frontline in the battle to protect forests from a logging industry eager to harvest the bounty that feeds much of the world's thirst for timber.

"Logging has been the biggest disaster for the forests, and its indigenous people," said Raymond Abin of the Borneo Resources Institute in Sarawak, Malaysia's biggest state that occupies a part of Borneo island.

The blockade "is the last resort of the natives after all processes of negotiations and consultations failed," he said.

Protection of forests is not just a Sarawak issue.

It is part of U.N. negotiations for a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol, amid new evidence that deforestation contributes to about 20 percent of global warming.

Leading the campaign in Sarawak are former headhunting tribes, who say logging is destroying their ancestral lands and snatching their customary rights over the forests. There are other concerns that logging has damaged Borneo's multimillion-year-old ecosystem and is pushing rare plant and animal species such as wild orchids and clouded leopard toward extinction.

The forests are "what you inherited from your ancestors. During the headhunting days they sacrificed their lives to defend it," said Harrison Ngau Laing, a lands rights lawyers who represents some of the tribes.

Laing, himself a tribesman, said some 100 legal cases have been filed by the tribes against logging companies and the government. None has been resolved.

But opinion is divided among the impoverished tribes, some of whom live in settlements so remote they can be reached only on foot after days of walking through jungle trails.

To them, the logging roads are a lifeline to civilization. In the absence of development, they see the logging companies as the bearer of basic needs such as clean water, electricity, toilets, schools and transportation.

"I want children to go to high school. I don't want them to stay here in the village where there is no school. Maybe when they come back they become doctor or teacher," said Seluma Jalong, a tribeswoman who taught herself to speak passable English. |more...on Tribes fight loggers to save Malaysian rainforests, but some natives welcome timber money|


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