On Wednesday, 47 people from the orang asli
community in Kelantan were detained by the police for putting up barriers at Simpang Petei and the entry route to Pos Bihai. They have been remanded for two to three days to assist in the investigation. The orang asli
refused to move from the spot in the interiors of Gua Musang, where the state Forestry Department was conducting an operation.
The debacle began in September when the Temiar orang asli
set up protest barricades to stop logging activities at the Balah forest reserve and Kuala Betis, Gua Musang. The community had previously complained about how these uncontrolled logging and land clearing caused erosion in the area and harmed their livelihoods.
Image: The Star
Pusat Komas (Komunikasi Masyarakat), who stands together with the orang asli
community has repeatedly tried to engage with the state government to discuss this matter and reach a consensus. To the orang asli
's dismay, the Kelantan government had issued a notice to the community in Gua Musang on 6 November, ordering the removal of the barricades by 20 November. They were told that they could face up to five years of jail time or fines up to RM5,000 or both if they are convicted under Section 32 of the National Forestry Act 1984 (Amendment 1993). The officials also directed the notice to any permanent forest reserve in Kelantan without the authorisation of the Kelantan Forestry Department.
Image: Malay Mail Online
However, the orang asli
tribe maintained their stand to protect the forest reserve and their ancestral land despite the warning, which led to the authorities resorting to demolish the barricades by force. The Forestry Department, police and General Operations Force entered the blockade on 29 November and arrested 41 orang asli
activists. Personal cameras and mobile phones were also seized and the makeshift barricades were completely destroyed.
Image: Siti Kasim's Facebook
Pusat Komas had spoken out and urged the state government to address the root of the problem and identify more amicable solutions instead of targeting the defenceless orang asli
community in the name of law.
Lawyer and native rights activist Siti Kasim, who was at the scene of the operation, shared a two-minute video on Facebook depicting how the state forestry authorities approached the blockade. The operation took seven hours and involved 210 enforcement personnel. Watch the video below:
In response, the Kelantan police have urged NGOs to stop exploiting the issue of the Gua Musang orang asli
arrest and warned that stern actions will be taken against those who seek cheap publicity by manipulating this matter.
State police chief Datuk Dr Ab Rahman Ismail said they are monitoring a few NGOs believed to be exploiting the orang asli
community to set up the anti-logging barriers. "We are aware that there are people who have made viral on social media, the arrest of the orang asli
in the operation, giving a negative impression that police had conspired with the state Forestry Department when we were only assisting the department,” he said. He added that authorities will take legal action against those who tried to tarnish the image of the police.
State Agriculture, Biotechnology and Green Technology Committee chairman, Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi, also agreed that the NGOs’ actions in instigating the orang asli
community would only worsen the matter because they are not providing suggestions for solutions. “We hope the NGOs do not seek cheap publicity as it will only cause difficulties for the orang asli
. We should focus on helping to resolve the issues. NGOs should be bodies that are good at pacifying the orang asli
and resolving the issues in the right manner and not influencing or inciting them to continue with the blockade,” he said.