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Feb 11, 2008

Heed our demands or its 'bye-bye' BN

Malaysiakini - A disgruntled Orang Asli community in Perak has given the Barisan Nasional (BN) an ultimatum - heed our demands or risk losing votes in the coming general election.

"We know that during this time, politicians are running after the people to ensure that the votes are cast in their favour.

"So, we will impose our demands in return for keeping them in power," said Kampung Gesau ‘Tok Batin’ Gaharai. Kadek, 52.

The Semai villagers in Ulu Slim have suddenly rediscovered a sense of empowerment after previously feeling helpless upon discovering that their ancestral land had been given away to a private company.

perak orang asli 110208 gaharai kadekMet recently, Gaharai told Malaysiakini that he had been trying in vain to seek assistance from various government agencies to fund an oil palm project on his village’s ancestral land for the past 15 years.

The project, it was hoped, would generate much needed revenue for the community of 32 families.

Located in the interiors of upper Slim River about 30-minutes drive from the town of Tanjung Malim, Gaharai and his villagers are barely making ends meet with their fruit orchards and vegetable patches.

A tarred road, a power cable, and the village’s two rows of small wooden houses built under the government’s public housing for the hardcore poor programme (PPRT) are the only signs of any progress.

The villagers are even forced to collect water for drinking and washing from the hills behind the village.

Police report filed

Having given up on getting help from the government, Gaharai took out his savings earned from his service in the army and went about doing clearance and planting works on the more than 32 acres (13 hectares) of the land adjacent to Kampung Gesau last November.

However, he was later informed that ‘Estet Pekebun Sdn Bhd’ (Espek) - a subsidiary company of the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) - had lodged a police report against him for encroaching on ‘its’ land.

perak orang asli 110208 bn cap"It was a shock to us. All these years, we had assumed this land on which our ancestors had lived and worked was ours," said the vexed headman.

During a meeting held on Dec14, which included officials from Espek and Risda, Gaharai was told that Risda had been given more than 5,580 acres (2,240 ha) in 1974. Of this, only 36 acres (14.73 ha) belonged to Kampung Gesau.

"For our oil palm trees, they gave us that big steep hill that sits in the middle of the land that they now own. The boundaries of their land, on the other hand, comes right up to behind my own house," said Gaharai.

"On our part, we are wondering why they did not just swallow up this village as well as they have taken up everything else that we own," he lamented.

Gaharai, who had fought against communist fighters during the insurgency, said he was not one to be let down by challenges such as this.

He also noted that as the village chief heading a loose council of 15 Orang Asli villages in the Slim River area, he commands a following that should not be taken lightly.

Among the demands which Gaharai wants to bring to the attention of politicians, is the revocation of land-transfer to Risda-Espek with respect to the land traditionally belonging to the Orang Asli.

perak orang asli 110208 land boundaryKampung Gesau villagers also want to reclaim the more than 500 acres (202 ha) of ancestral land that had been lost to other parties over the years.

To safeguard the Orang Asli from further land-grabs, Gaharai said the state government must gazette, or otherwise declare in writing, all lands claimed by Orang Asli in the districts of Slim River and Tanjung Malim.

"We are taking the promises of the politicians and turning them back towards them for them to answer: They have to give us what we want now. Or else, bye-bye BN," said Gaharai.

State rep: Valid concerns

Serving as a ray of hope for Kampung Gesau villagers is the apparent concessions recently granted to the neighboring Kampung Orang Asli at Pos Bersih.

Its Tok Batin Syani Yeok Yem had on several occasions petitioned the state Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA), the state Forestry Department and the local district and land offices for approval to develop his village.

It was only recently that his application had caught the attention of Perak Menteri Besar Mohd Tajol Rosli Ghazali himself.

Exactly seven days after Syani’s Jan 16 letter to Tajol Rosli, a letter from the menteri besar’s office arrived at the former’s doorsteps.

The heads of the Slim River District and Land Office, the district JHEOA and Slim state assemblyperson Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib were then ordered to meet with Syani to "resolve the problem of development in the settlement area concerned."

When contacted, Behrang state assemblyperson KRA Naidu - whose constituency includes the Ulu Slim area - expressed concern about the Kampung Gesau issue and vowed to take it up with Tajol Rosli.

"I’m also not happy with the recent developments, and I will be taking it up with the higher authorities and do all things necessary. Espek says the Orang Asli had encroached on their land, but I think it’s the other way around," he said

"The Orang Asli voiced their concerns to me and they have every reason to be concerned," he added.


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