MIRI: Timber giant Samling is dismayed with accusations levelled against it regarding the blockade set up by villagers in Long Pakan.
“It is true that Samling was awarded a Permit to Enter Coupe or PEC for Coupe 01A, T0405 Layun on Aug 27 this year for the purpose of timber extraction.
“However, Samling has yet to begin any work in the area, and thus far has only begun to transport logs from outside of the area for the purpose of building a bridge over Sungai Patah.
“In addition, we also held two meetings with the villagers of Long Pakan, including over 60 Ketua Bilik of the village in August and September.
“These sessions were for the purpose of informing the villagers of the company’s intended activities in the area and to obtain their consent for our work to proceed,” Samling said in a statement on Monday (Oct 11).
It disclosed that it had, thus far, obtained the consent of 56 Ketua Bilik of Long Pakan but unfortunately, the Ketua Kampung, Pada Jutang, was not one of the 56 who gave their consent.
“As a result, Pada Jutang and a few of the villagers had set up a blockade in the area on Aug 23. They had also proceeded to cut up the logs that had been brought in to build the bridge over Sungai Patah.
“In response, the villagers who had consented led by Joshua Geng, had lodged a police report on Sept 14.
“However, before police could intervene, some villagers proceeded to dismantle the blockade on Sept 21. We are given to understand that this group of villagers was led by Sakaria Pada, who is the son of Pada Jutang.”
Samling further stated that it did not issue any threats against Pada Jutang or any of the villagers, nor was involved in the dismantling of the blockade.
“As such, in this matter, Samling did not lodge any police report nor make any attempt to dismantle the blockade.
“To say that Samling is facing a standoff with the villagers is patently untrue because we believe that this matter is an issue that has arisen among the villagers, and needs to be resolved between the villagers themselves.”
Samling revealed that there were also reports stating that it had entered native customary rights (NCR) land in the area and had extracted timber there.
“This is an accusation that is malicious and without any truth or basis. Firstly, we have not begun any extraction work in the area as we are still in discussions with the villagers to explain to them the scope of our work.
“Secondly, under the licence granted, we are not allowed to enter any land deemed as NCR that may lie within the coupe.
“It is important to understand that the classification of NCR land is a complex matter and several key conditions have to be met before any land can be classified as NCR land.
“The media reports were based overwhelmingly on an article carried in the Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) website and were done remotely whereby the media had failed to send any representative to the area in order to determine the truth and legitimacy of the various claims that were made in the BMF article.
“We hope that as part of its journalistic responsibility, the media will allow Samling the right of response and publish our position on the issue.
“The media reports have cast Samling in a most negative light and have given the impression of a boorish company trampling over the rights of native communities.
“While this may fit the romantic notion perpetuated by certain non-government organisations, it is unfortunately a disservice not only to Samling, but also to the native communities concerned.
“Throughout the years in which we have operated in the Baram area, Samling has always sought the involvement of native communities in our activities, not only in terms of obtaining their consent, but also in the provision of employment and basic infrastructure amenities such as roads and bridges.”
Samling mentioned that it did not approach the issue through confrontation but through negotiation, education, awareness and empowerment.
“We are fully supportive of native communities determining for themselves how they would like to move forward, without any coercion or force. Our operations will continue to reflect this stance.”