By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KOTA KINABALU: Activists and politicians have chastised the Sabah Forestry Department as well as the Conservator of Forests for being cold-hearted so as to wreck the dwellings of several villagers in Kampung Bobotong, Tongod, on Friday despite a plea by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) requesting for more details into alleged encroachment of forest reserve land.
Forestry Department personnel, accompanied by uniformed personnel used chain saws to tear down the houses of the local natives who claimed they had been residing on the said land for many years, even before it was gazetted as forest reserve.
There was no shred of humanity at all in the high-handed actions of the forestry department personnel as if delaying such action would seriously damage the land that had already been opened up for agriculture purposes.
Scores of people including women and children were left homeless by the action of the forestry department staff who acted as bullies rather than civil servants.
“They would not dare act against illegal immigrants or tear down such squatter houses, but here they are brave to strike fear in children and hapless natives,” said an activist who requested not to be named.
The dastardly actions of the Forestry Department got netizens to query what Barisan Nasional assemblyman (for Kuamut) Datuk Masiung Banah had done to assist the villagers in their appeal.
They also queried if the land now gazetted as forest reserve would not see a change in status in the near future and (oil palm) planters from outside Sabah be given the land over the rights of the orang asal (natives).
Activist cum politician Adrian Lasimbang said they condemned the inhumane treatment by the Forestry Department on the Orang Asal community.
“We are shocked with such action to demolish the houses of the natives as if they are not human. Such demolition of their houses is an insult to the Adat (culture) of the ‘orang asal’,” he stressed.
He also said that since Suhakam had written a letter to the Forestry Department requesting for more details, it would only have been civil and right to postpone any demolition works.
“The State Government is supposed to protect the rights of these ‘orang asal’ of Sabah,” wrote social and political activist, Kanul Gindul.
“No matter what trespasses my native brothers have on the land, Sabah is still their land and they, as community, must be allowed rights to their spaces over rights of faraway individuals.
“I am very sad the Forestry Department chose the cruel way to chain saw these kampung dwellings.
“These very harsh acts by the government authorities shall never be allowed to break the spirit of the ‘orang asal’ whose lives have always been tied to land.”
Neither activist however could provide details as to how many houses and people were affected by the Forestry Department actions.
However it is understood that these people had been living in the area for several years now and many had planted oil palm and fruits trees to earn a living.
In their letter to Suhakam, one of the complainants, Jimmy Iban claimed that he and the others had been living on the said land way before it was gazetted as forest reserve and they feared for their future.
On March 15, Heflin Dino, on behalf of the Secretary of Suhakam Sabah had written a letter to the Tongod District Forestry Department, saying that a complaint had been lodged and that Suhakam was duly investigating the matter as per its standard operating procedures.
It sought the cooperation of the department officials as well as feedback.
The Forestry Department’s speedy response was to tear down the houses.