Police arrest durian farmers, workers on hill clearing

The clearing on a section of the site on Bukit Kukus, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: Police have arrested several durian farmers and workers on a hill alleged to have been cleared illegally for violating the movement control order (MCO).

FMT had reported that the land on Bukit Kukus beside a hill in Bukit Relau – once dubbed “Bukit Botak” – had been cleared, possibly for farming activities.

The clearing of the site, believed to measure close to 15ha, was spotted by a member of the public who noticed smoke rising from the hilltop.

Northeast district police chief Soffian Santong told FMT eight men were arrested on April 15, including three foreign workers believed to be illegal immigrants.

“The three foreigners are being investigated under the immigration laws, while the other five, all Malaysians, have been released on police bail. We have left this case to the public prosecutor to decide if they are to be charged,” he said.

A Penang government source told FMT the farmers were on the hilltop during the MCO as they believed they had approval from the state agriculture department.

“When the police caught them, the owners of the farm showed letters saying they were given clearance to carry out farming activities,” the government official said.

It is also believed that the owners claimed they had permission to carry out farming by a federal ministry.

FMT sighted two letters, including one from the southwest district agricultural office dated Feb 20 saying the durian farmers wanted to plant “various types of premium, cloned durian varieties” on two plots of land there.

The letter, signed by an agricultural officer, said the farmers were free to carry out planting activities so long as they met the “durian planting on hill slope” rules set out.

The other letter, said to be from an official of the agriculture and food industries ministry, dated March 22, gave an “exemption” to the farmers to carry out work under the MCO, as they were part of the “food supply chain”.

The state government source said that durian farms were permitted above 76m (hill land) under the Penang Structure Plan (PSP), in response to claims by Sahabat Alam Malaysia that agricultural work was not allowed on hill land.

FMT has contacted the agriculture ministry for comment.

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