S’wak Punan Bah people sue state gov’t, timber firms

timber firms

KUCHING: Three individuals representing the interests of over 1,000 people from the Punan Bah clan, have filed a claim of encroachment on their native customary rights (NCR) land in Belaga district, Kapit.

Gebril Atong, 39, Sayang Kawang, 72, and Medik Kojan, 63, defended their right over 100,000 acres claimed to be NCR land which they allege has been encroached upon and exploited by the state government, and timber and plantation-related firms, according to a report by Malay Mail Online.

The three villagers said the forests were intrinsically tied to the Punan Bah’s history, culture, identity and livelihood.

In their culture, the forest is referred to as “Baliu Kano” or “Ipung Popien” (preserved forests), a practice that existed prior to January 1, 1958, before the Sarawak Land Code came into effect, which qualifies their claim over it as NCR land.

In the filing, they have named as respondents the state government of Sarawak, seven timber and plantation-related firms, director of the Sarawak Forestry Department, and the state resource planning and environment minister.

Residents of the Punan Bah longhouse expressed that their interdependence on the forest was all-encompassing and essential to their spiritual, cultural and economic sustenance.

They also claim that hunting grounds, fishing spots, rivers, fruits and crops that have existed for generations were polluted or destroyed because of encroachment on the land.

The Punan Bah people are represented by lawyer, Paul Raja.

Justice Supang Lian, Sibu High Court will hear the case from February 1-5.