Indigenous community in Kanowit alleges native land encroachment

From fourth left: Nicholas and Matek pose with village representatives after submitting their letter and petition to the Forest Department at Wisma Sumber Alam.

By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, Feb 21: Residents of two longhouses in Sungai Ngemah, Kanowit, want the Forest Department to investigate logging activities that they claimed have encroached into their native customary rights (NCR) land.

Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) secretary Nicholas Mujah and mapping officer Matek Geram led village representatives to Wisma Sumber Alam here today to submit a petition requesting the department to look into the matter.

The villagers claimed that the logging area, affecting Bukit Spali, had encroached into their ‘pemakai menoa’ (territorial domain).

Residents of Rumah Juil and Rumah Sliong hoped the government would revoke the logging concessions of two companies to prevent them from operating in the area, considering that it is also located near the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.


According to Matek, the villagers had lodged several police reports over the years and filed complaints with forestry officers, but the companies continued to log the area until their activities stopped several years ago.

However, since last year, the companies started to erect signages along the road into the area to serve as markers for logistics. Fearing that logging might resume at the disputed area, villagers had set up barricades and are taking turns to guard the entrance, he revealed.

Matek (centre) fielding questions from the press.

“They have been complaining of the said encroachment since 2006, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The people are not happy with the logging licence issued to the two companies,

“Villagers are claiming the area as their NCR (native customary rights) land. They have been carrying out agriculture activities there for years; even their burial site is located at the affected area,” he told reporters.

Matek said amid the previous logging activities, a vast area is still considered virgin forest. He added that the disputed area, spanning over 3,000 hectares, is still home to many protected animals, including hornbills, which are easily spotted.

“Until today, the companies are still adamant to extract timber in the area. We feel that Sadia, in a situation like this, needs to help the indigenous community that are oppressed by the whole situation,” he emphasised.

Nicholas said the longhouse folks had grown frustrated by the lack of action from authorities to resolve the matter.

The letter sent by Sadia also demanded the department send officers to investigate the claims of both parties.

“The state government has repeatedly said there is no new logging licence issued, but the incident in Sungai Ngemah seems to have shown otherwise. It is business as usual for the logging companies.

“To avoid similar conflicts in future, we plead with the state government to notify the local villagers before carrying out development activities in their area, especially when involving land clearing,” he said.

Nicholas (right) speaking to reporters.

Nicholas expressed concern that the affected community might resort to a confrontational approach with logging companies if no strict measures are taken.

He hoped the policymakers would show more concern to the plight of the natives.

“The villagers were told by the logging companies that their licence has been renewed to continue with the logging activities, but the villagers are not sure about the authenticity of the licence.

“I can’t rule out this possibility, but if the licence is not genuine, I don’t think the loggers (company) would dare to challenge the chief minister (state policy),” he said. — DayakDaily