Indigenous Malaysians in fight of their lives have logging blockade destroyed


The Temiar people of Cunex village, who SBS News visited earlier this year, have vowed to continue their fight against the logging companies.

When Malaysia’s new government came to power in May last year they promised a re-set in relations between the government and the country’s marginalised indigenous population.

But in the northern Malaysian state of Perak, a tribal group’s battle to stop the logging of their traditional lands has highlighted how little has changed on the ground.

SBS News visited the Temiar people of Cunex village in March. They had established a logging blockade earlier in the year to stop the logging trucks from entering the forests around their village.

“We get most of our resources from the forest, like medicine, the thatch for our roofs, and our wood source,” village leader Pam Bin Yeek told SBS News at the time. 

But late last week agents of the Perak state government arrived with chainsaws to dismantle the logging blockade and allow the halted logging trucks to start again.

Perak state government officers demolish the Cunex village logging blockade
Perak state government officers demolish the Cunex village logging blockade.
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns

The head of the federal government’s Orang Asli (indigenous) Development Department has voiced his support for the villagers in Cunex.

“They don't want to lose their native land that they have inherited for thousands of years,” Director Juli Edo said.

"This action [the blockade] was not to oppose development planned by the state government, but was an effort to protect their rights and heritage," he added.

But despite the support from the federal government, many decisions such as logging concessions and land rights are made at the state government level.

The state government in Perak is controlled by the Pakatan Harapan coalition, who are also in power federally.

Despite coming from the same coalition of parties, differences between the state and federal governments on logging and indigenous land rights remain. 

Despite the trucks restarting near Cunex village, the Temiar people have said they will continue their fight against the loggers and haven’t ruled out building further blockades.

Pam Bin Yeek
“The land is the source of our economy,” village leader Pam Bin Yeek said.
SBS News

In January the federal Malaysian government launched a historic lawsuit against the state government of neighbouring Kelantan state over their failure to protect indigenous Malaysian’s land rights.

It’s unclear whether the federal government’s intervention will lead to changes on the ground in Kelantan or whether similar action is being considered in Perak.

Sivarasa Rasiah, the federal Malaysian government’s deputy minister for Rural Development, told SBS News in March: 

“I think there has to be much more sensitivity about the Orang Asli community, how we are going to solve their problems. I think we are making some progress, but we have a long way to go.” 

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