Tribes in the Sarawak interior are "unanimously against" the proposed Baram hydroelectric dam that would displace thousands of them if it is built, a fact finding mission by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) earlier this month has found.
The people also expressed their hopes to the six-member Suhakam team that the state government would totally abandon the plan to construct the RM4 billion dam that would submerge 400 square kilometres of their rainforest.
They conveyed this to the team led by Nurul Hassanah Ahmad Hassain Malim, who is Suhakam's deputy secretary for policy, law and complaints, at a gathering in the Kenyah settlement of Long San on September 4 and 5.
Long San on the Baram River, about 230km or a 4-hour drive from Miri, is considered the principal home of Kenyah culture and has become increasingly popular as a tourist destination.
The Suhakam team also visited three other longhouses – the Kenyah longhouses at Tanjong Pelipat and Long Selatong Bekian and the Kayan longhouse at Long Liam – for a similar mission.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem had, in a television interview on Malaysia Day, said a moratorium on the dam was due to strong opposition from the people in Baram and environmental concerns.
Adenan first announced the moratorium in Long Lama on August 4.
“While the people welcome the announcement on the moratorium, a great sense of anxiety is still there,” said Peter Kallang (pic, left), chairman of Save Rivers, the non-governmental organisation that is spearheading the campaign against the dam.
Some 20,000 people risk being displaced if the dam, meant to generate 1,300MW of electricity, is built.
It will be one of 12 dams by 2030 to power the Sarawak industrial belt, the Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy (Score).
Kallang, an electrical engineer turned social activist, said there are “a number of outstanding issues” related to the proposed dam project that must be resolved before “the people can believe the goodwill and sincerity of the government’s gesture”.
He said landowners now want to know the status of their land which had been gazetted for the dam and also of logging activities carried under permits issued by the government. They fear that the logging permits were issued to clear the site proposed for the dam.
“The people would only be comfortable if the gazette and the permits are revoked,” Kallang said.
When announcing the moratorium, Adenan had also asked the tribes people to reciprocate with some good faith by removing the blockade they had erected to prevent Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) and their contractors from entering the dam site.
The blockade was mounted two years ago.
But Kallang said the blockade did "not affect the normal usage of the public or main road".
If there was already a moratorium on the dam, there was also "no reason why anyone should go there," he added.
Kallang said tribespeople still maintained their camps near the blockade to protect the barricade and to monitor and ensure that no logging would be carried out at the dam side.
He said logging activities were "still going on unimpeded in the Baram basin". – September 22, 2015.