Just days after a group of Penan came forward to report the disappearance of Kelesau Naan, a respected 79-year old activist and leader from the Penan settlement of Long Kerong in Malaysia, his body was found near Sungai Segita– about a two hours’ walk from Long Kerong.
According to Malaysiakini, the Penan found evidence that he was assaulted. “His hand was broken and looked as if it had been hit by a sharp object,” Matin Bujang told Malaysiakini while en route to lodge a police report.
“While shocked at the gruesome finding, Matin said the villagers were not completely surprised as tensions had escalated in recent months over the issue of logging in the Upper Baram region.
Last September, Matin pointed out, disturbances broke out near Ba’ Lai which led many to fear further troubles.
This is in addition to earlier reports that Penans from the nearby village of Long Benali had in April and August 2007 been subjected to intimidation by local security forces seeking to break up their logging blockade.” (NB: another blockade was set up by the Long Benali community a little over a month ago)
Still reeling from Kelesau’s death, on Friday a group of Penan issued a stern warning to outsiders – especially loggers – against entering their land.
“According to Kelesau’s family members, this is to avert any “untoward incidents” given the villagers’ anger following his disappearance and death and their suspicions of outsiders.
“The villagers are angry because of my father’s death. Right now, they do not want anybody to enter the territory without their permission,” the late headman’s son Nick told Malaysiakini.
Nick stressed that while tourists and other such visitors would be allowed to come into the village land and would not be subject to the same restrictions as logging workers, the villagers insist that they be notified beforehand.
“Kelesau’s relatives and children cannot tell what is in the hearts of the people they may come across suddenly in the forest. Given what has happened, we are afraid there may be further disturbances, even another killing. Some may seek revenge for my father’s death,” he added.”
In directly related news, ICNN reports an official from the Samling Corporationrecently issued a death threat against anyone from the Penan community of Long Data Bila who opposes Samling’s activities.
Mr. Lee is alleged to have said “If you people try to stop our plans, we will kill you”.
Long Data Bila is a part of the Penan land rights claim that Kelesau Naan helped to catalyze.
“In the light of the recent mysterious death of the Penan headman of Long Kerong, one of the plaintiffs of this case, the Penan are taking Mr. Lee’s threat extremely serious. BMF calls on the Samling corporation to immediately stop all kinds of intimidations and cease its logging and plantation activities in the contested areas.”
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