World Rainforest Movement

Malaysia: Nomadic and semi-nomadic Penan communities intensify campaign against Samling Group

Intense and continuing logging has taken place in Sarawak for the last 30 years or so. More than 95% of Sarawak’s original forest cover has now been logged at least once. The few remaining portions of unprotected primary forest in Sarawak are in mountainous regions close to the border with Indonesia, and these are now being hastily logged by the five leading logging groups active in Sarawak and their myriad of subsidiaries and associated contractors.

The forestry ministry of the State of Sarawak speaks of sustainable harvesting of the forests on a 25 year cycle and allocation of vast tracts of land for palm and cash crop cultivation. However, the net result is, as most biologists agree, destruction of the delicate 100 million year old forest ecosystem with the disappearance of the canopy. A secondary effect now evident all over the country is an almost universal pollution of fresh water rivers and streams with silt which has severely impacted both the inland and marine fishing sectors.

No less critical is the plight of Sarawak’s forest indigenous people who rely on the forest for sustenance. There remain 200 or so nomadic Penans and their future looks dire in terms of their ability to continue in the manner they have been accustomed to for hundreds of years. Many of the remaining Penans are locked in a state of constant confrontation with the logging industry and the local government for preservation of their remaining forest lands. While numerous land-rights cases are passing slowly through the legal system, the logging continues, with the local people being no match for the well funded and connected logging concession holders and their contractors.

The Samling Group holds 1.4 million hectares in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. On the recent occasion of its public listing at the Hong Kong stock exchange, 37 organizations from 18 countries asked investors and banks to shun the company for its failure to comply with basic environmental and social standards.

Samling has already logged large areas of primary tropical forests in the Upper Limbang river area, close to the Batu Lawi, a mountain which the Penan consider to be holy.

Four nomadic and semi-nomadic Penan communities living on the Limbang river in the North of the state of Sarawak launched a joint appeal to the international public. The communities of Long Nyakit, Long Peresek, Long Adang and Long Keneng urge Credit Suisse, HSBC and Macquarie Securities, the three banks who have sponsored Samling´s recent public listing, to stop supporting the timber giant.

“Samling is destroying our last remaining rainforest in the Upper Limbang”, headman Awing Tubai said on behalf of the Penan communities. “We need clean water for drinking and fishing and intact forests where we can gather our food and other forest products.”

Article based on: “Rainforest communities step up campaign against Samling”, Bruno Manser Fonds, www.bmf.ch; “The Final Chapter for Sarawak’s Primary Forests”, www.ForestAlert.org, http://forestalert.org/forest.php?lang=en&news_id=5