Several villagers are living in Sabah forest reserves and fear being evicted.
KOTA KINABALU: The state government has been urged to issue communal land titles to villages currently “trapped” in forest reserves throughout Sabah.
A government backbencher said that all the issues related to the villages which have existed for generations in forest reserves would be resolved by issuing each of them a communal title.
“I believe all the issues related to villages currently trapped in forest reserves, as well as the fear and misery among the villagers, can be solved by granting them land titles,” Ranau MP Siringan Gubat said.
He added that the villagers are living in constant in fear of eviction.
He said that there are several villages that have been in existence since before independence, and are still trapped in forest reserves throughout Sabah, including in his own constituency.
He added that despite assurance from the government that these villages or settlements in the forest reserves can continue to exist, issues related to land rights still keep coming up from time to time.
The latest is in the Rundum forest reserve area in Kemabong, involving Kampung Kapulu residents.
Siringan said that the Forestry Department which manages the forest reserves should work with the Land and Survey Department to issue communal titles to these villages in the forest reserves.
He said that such documents would help ensure there would be no encroachment into these forest reserves.
Since the communal titles are not given to individuals, the land involved will still be held by the government, he said.
Siringan said in his constituency there are 15 traditional villages trapped within the forest reserve areas.
He said among the trapped villages are Kampung Kanawahon, Kampung Panulangon, Kampung Tinanom and Kampung Valu which are located in the Trus Madi forest reserve; Bundu Tuhan, Imbahan, Kampung Tegudon Lama, Ratau, Kampung Tinatasan and Toboh Lama in the Tenompok forest reserve; and Kampung Nabutan, Kampung Nalapak, Kampung Sagundoi Baru, Kampung Sagundoi Lama and Kampung Matupang in Ulu Tungud forest reserve.
In Kampung Sagundoi Baru, trouble cropped up when villagers reopened lands which they used to work on before, not knowing it was inside the forest reserve area.
When they were arrested, the villagers claimed they were confused because the boundary of the forest reserve kept changing.
Their trial was held recently and they were fined RM18,000 each but the amount was reduced to RM3,000 each on appeal.
Under the current policy, only land within forest reserves which had already been opened up and cultivated before 1998 is considered legal.
The communal title system, implemented by the Land and Survey Department, was introduced to settle land claims, with priority given to the poor who are landless.