Putrajaya cites latest Orang Asli deaths to boost its suit against Kelantan

A temporary shelter for the Batek tribe in Kampung Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, following an outbreak of disease in their village which caused the deaths of 14 people. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The deaths of 14 people from the Batek tribe in a village in Gua Musang have been cited by Putrajaya to strengthen its case against the Kelantan government, which is being sued over encroachments into 10 Orang Asli settlements.

In an affidavit filed last week, Putrajaya said the incident in Kampung Kuala Koh further showed that the PAS-led state government had failed to protect the rights of the Orang Asli in Gua Musang.

“I have reason to believe that the real cause of death among the Batek Orang Asli is due to neglect and/or omission of the state in failing to recognise the customary rights of the Orang Asli and allowing the land to be destroyed and depleted in the name of ‘progressive development’ of the state,” said Khong Hui Li, special officer to Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, in a supplementary affidavit sighted by FMT.

Putrajaya initiated the suit against the state government early this year over encroachments into 10 Orang Asli settlements in Pos Simpor.

Khong said the state government, just like the federal government, owed the Orang Asli a fiduciary duty as trustee not only to protect the community’s welfare, well-being and advancement, but also to safeguard the native customary rights.

Khong’s affidavit is accompanied by exhibits of news reports provided by the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy previously said the deaths took place between May 2 and June 7.

He said two of them died of pneumonia while the cause of death of the other 12 victims was not clear as the bodies were buried prior to reports of the outbreak.

Locals have blamed the deaths on mining activities and consumption of polluted water. Authorities are still investigating.

The Kuala Koh and Pos Simpor settlements are located in the Bertam district in Gua Musang.

Putrajaya’s suit is the first of its kind by the federal government to protect the native land rights of the Orang Asli.

It is seeking an injunction to stop private companies from encroaching into native lands to carry out commercial activities, as well as several declarations.

The suit named the state government, state director of lands and mines and state director of the forestry department.

It also named five companies: Fleet Precision Sdn Bhd, Koperasi Kijang Mas Negeri Kelantan Bhd, KPG Maju Enterprise Sdn Bhd, Ringgit Saksama (M) Sdn Bhd and M7 Plantation Bhd.

The Kelantan government and its agencies had granted logging licences to private companies allowing them to enter the native land of the Temiar Orang Asli in Pos Simpor.

Vast areas of forest were reportedly cleared to make way for durian and rubber tree plantations.

In its statement of claim, Putrajaya said this had deprived the Temiar Orang Asli of their native land and resources and caused widespread erosion, pollution and irreparable damage to the ecology and landscape of Pos Simpor.

On July 21, the High Court in Kota Baru will hear the state government’s application to strike out the suit.

The Kelantan government argues that Putrajaya has no legal standing to bring the case, and that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the suit on constitutional grounds.