Natives block construction works on mega-dam in Malaysian rainforest
28th September 2012 – for immediate release
(MURUM, SARAWAK, MALAYSIA) Early morning of 26th of September, 200 Penan and Kenyah women, men and children put up a blockade on the access road to the 944 MW Murum dam in the interior of Sarawak, located on the Malaysian part of Borneo island. They will only let the supply trucks pass their blockade, if the Norwegian CEO of Sarawak Energy, the agency in charge of the construction of the dam and electricity generation in Sarawak, and Sarawak’s authorities are willing to meet them at the blockade site and agree to their demands.
141m high Murum dam, under construction by China’s Three Gorges Corporation, affects at least 1,400 people from the ethnic groups of the Western Penan and the Kenyah and will start flooding almost 250km2 of rainforest and farmland once it is completed by early 2013. The natives have decided to install the blockade because the responsible government authorities and Sarawak Energy have never taken their demands seriously. With the construction work entering the final phase, they feel urged to act and pressure for their rights.
At a press conference today, they presented an open memorandum addressed to the implementing authorities to solve pending issues concerning their rights to land and forest and the involuntary resettlement. They have witnessed how the quality of life decreased for their neighbouring communities affected by Bakun dam, one of the biggest dams in Asia, when they were forcefully displaced in 1998. They do not want to face the same fate: loss of livelihood, poverty and loss of culture.
Two key figures in the construction of Murum dam are Norwegian Torstein Dale Sjotveit, who is CEO of Sarawak Energy, and Australian Andrew Pattle, seconded from Hydro Tasmania to Sarawak Energy to lead the construction works at Murum dam. Whereas Pattle has recently been in the news because he admitted that “safety and environmental standards are not given much importance in Sarawak”, Torstein Dale Sjotveit has been facing criticism as he is spearheading Sarawak’s plans to build at least 12 new dams in Sarawak’s interior until 2030 – Murum dam just being the first one.
As the responsible Sarawakian authorities refuse an open and transparent communication, the real impact of the project is difficult to estimate. What is clear is that Baram dam, the next dam on the list after Murum dam, will alone flood 400km2 and displace 20,000 natives. This indicates that hundreds of square kilometres and tens of thousand people will be affected if they implement the full-scale project.
Torstein Dale Sjotveit is currently facing strong rejection in Sarawak. He has not only already received lots of letters from angry communities asking him to immediately put the dam endeavour on halt, but also faces a corruption complaint in Malaysia. Natives accuse him of abusing his position as head of Sarawak Energy to favour companies linked to the family of Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. Among other things, they criticize that Sarawak Energy granted a MYR 99 million (USD 31.8 mio.) power transmission line contract to Universal Cable, a company linked to Abu Bekir Taib, son of the Sarawak Chief Minister, without public tender. Universal Cable is a subsidiary of Sarawak Cable, of which Abu Bekir Taib holds 42% of the shares.
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Picture 1: Penan and Kenyah blocking the access road to the Murum dam site in Malaysia's rainforest
Picture 2: Natives blocking all construction material supplies for Murum dam
Picture 3: People affected by Murum dam protesting for their rights
Picture 4: Also women are participating and blocking the access road to the Murum dam
Picture 5: Cement supplies for Murum dam are blocked by angry natives
Picture 6: No truck is allowed to pass the blockade
Copyright of all pictures: Bruno Manser Fund, BMF
Penan and Kenyah blocking the access road to the Murum dam site in Malaysia's rainforest
Natives blocking all construction material supplies for Murum dam
People affected by Murum dam protesting for their rights
Also women are participating and blocking the access road to the Murum dam
Cement supplies for Murum dam are blocked by angry natives
No truck is allowed to pass the blockade