The Malaysian Oil palm giant Shin Yang has heard the hopes and prayers of six Penan villages in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
Late last year, the six villages were horrified to learn that, not only were they going to be evicted from their land to make way for the controversial Murum hydro dam, but they were also going to be, in effect, “dumped” into an oil palm plantation, as Survival International reported in June 2011.
The Penan had said that they didn’t want to move, but the government didn’t give them any choice. They also “told the government that if they had to leave they wanted to move to another part of their ancestral land,” said Survival.
The Sarawak government accepted the Penan’s request; However, as it turned out, the government had already sold the area to Shin Yang, without the Penan’s consent.
The company wasted no time “clearing and felling the forest for oil palm plantation” also without the Penan’s consent, reported the Molong Post in November 2010.
In a statement, the Peleiran-Murum Penan Affairs Committee, which represents all six Penan villages, said, “It is [most] disturbing to learn that those areas that we proposed as resettlement area have been parcelled out for oil palm plantations… We have found out that Shin Yang Company has started clearing and felling the forest for oil palm plantation in the Metalon River area without our consent. The clearing of forests by the Shin Yang within the proposed Metalon resettlement area will adversely affect our livelihood in the near future.”
Commenting on the resettlement plan, Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, said, “Even by the appalling standards of the Sarawak government, which has treated the Penan with contempt for decades, this is breathtakingly cynical. Not only is it forcing more than 1,000 people from the forests they have lived in for generations, it has sold off the area it promised them as a new home, and is allowing it to be cleared for plantations. It looks like the government won’t be satisfied until the Penan are reduced to utter poverty and destitution.”
Thanks to Shin Yang, perhaps it won’t come to that. Survival reported on June 14 that the company has halted work in the area “pending verification from the authorities” that the land has been designated for the Penan.
Shin Yang has given the Malaysian state of Sarawak a chance to finally do right by the Penan. We can only hope they do just that.