Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baram Dam protests escalate, assemblyman asks for cooling off period

Workers with their packed bags waiting to leave in boats after they were prevented from entering the dam site by protesting natives.
Workers with their packed bags waiting to leave in boats after they were prevented from entering the dam site by protesting natives.
MIRI: A Barisan Nasional politician wants a temporary halt to ground testing and survey works at the proposed Baram hydro-electric dam site in interior northern Sarawak due to escalating protests and blockades staged by the natives.
Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau, who is Barisan Youth chief for Baram, told The Star Online the situation is "very hot" on the ground with the protesting natives showing unrelenting aggression. He is worried the situation will boil over into a physical confrontation.

Ngau wants a cooling period while he and other local Barisan politicians find a way out of this latest dispute that has threatened to turn into a serious political and social issue.

"Stop all ground works for the time being until further notice. Don't confront the protesters. Leave it to us politicians to find a solution," Ngau advised workers and contractors who are carrying out rock drilling between Long Naah and Long Kesseh some 200kms inland from Miri City.

Ngau said he has advised workers of Sarawak Energy Bhd and officials from the state Land and Survey Department to stay away from the site for now.

"These workers have left the area. They were advised not to confront the protesting natives.

"I have asked the community leaders in Long Naah and Long Kesseh and surrounding villages to cool down the protesters.

"The best thing now for all parties is for a cooling period to set in. The workers should not attempt to force their way past the protesters.

"The protesters are very aggressive and I am worried if there is physical confrontation.

"I and Baram MP Anyi Ngau are trying to arrange for an urgent meeting with all the relevant people, including the community leaders, to find a way out of this.

"I hope to get in touch with all of the native leaders within the next few days and get them to come down to Miri City where we can discuss things in a rational and calm manner.

"I would like to go into ulu Baram and meet the protesters if possible, but indications are that they will not listen and will not negotiate.

"For now, I think it is best to stay away until they have cooled down," he said of the latest situation in ulu Baram.

Environmental groups, Save Sarawak Rivers and Baram People's Action Committee, told The Star that the protesting natives who have set up blockades in Long Kesseh and the main road leading to the dam site, are reinforcing their barricades and blocking every roads to the dam site.

Save Sarawak Rivers' chairman Peter Kallang said another blockade at Long Lama was also being set up.

"No construction materials and equipment or vehicles are allowed to enter. At the dam site, the protesters are expelling every worker they find.

"Some of the workers and surveyors who were chased away tried to come back to the area, but were stopped at the blockades," he said.

Baram People's Action Committee chairman Philip Jau said the natives, numbering more than a hundred at each of the blockade sites, were made up of villagers, both women and men.

"We are staying day and night and manning the blockades 24 hour non-stop. We will camp out at the blockade sites for as long as needed," he said, adding that there is no other option for the natives but to make sure that they stop every ground work before the dam construction starts.

The proposed Baram Dam is one of 11 new dams that are being planned by the state government throughout Sarawak.

The Baram Dam will uproot at least 20,000 natives from the Kenyahs, Kayans and Penans ethnic groups.

Kallang, Jau and several human rights lawyers and environmental activists had written an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, asking the world body to stop the dam from being built.

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