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Villagers cry foul over 'wild celebration'

A plantation company that is being sued by a group of Ibans in Sarawak for allegedly encroaching into their native customary rights (NCR) land has devised a subtle plan to get back at them.

According to John Cobbold Losoi, spokesperson for a group of aggrieved Iban NCR landowners in Pantu, Sri Aman, the plantation company is Syarikat Tetangga Akrab LCDC Pelita - a joint venture between local firm Kumpulan Sama Sdn Bhd and a state government agency.

Cobbold said the natives there had taken the firm to court for land encroachment and sought damages.

In retaliation, the company had on the pretext of celebrating National Day invited 40 people from the nearby villages – Kampung Ubah,Tekuyong, Sg Tenggang, Isu, Gayau and Empaling - for a two-day party.

The villagers were entertained on Aug 30 and Aug 31 and plied with food and drink, resulting in many getting drunk.

Those who were ‘high’ apparently went on a rampage, using axes to cut down old rubber trees and demolished four farm huts belonging to their fellow Iban villagers.

“They were each paid RM15 a day,” Cobbold.told Malaysiakini. “This is clearly an exploitation of the weakness of our people and we condemn such action in the strongest possible terms.”

He added that the majority of those who were drunk were womenfolk who didn’t know what they were doing.

According to Cobbold, the JV company was granted a 60-year lease on a 7,000-hectare piece of plantation land by the state government.

So far, about 1,200 hectares have been planted with fruit, of which about 200 hectares are already matured and harvested.

Police told to probe masterminds

The natives from six affected villages claim their NCR land make up more than half of the leased land, and that the company did not consult or compensated them for the use of the land.

Their case against the firm is to be heard in court next month.

One of the aggrieved village chiefs, Masa Nangkai, lodged a police report at the Pantu police station yesterday over the destruction of 200 rubber trees in his village, Bukit Tekalau.

The chief claimed the “rampaging” natives were exploited and instigated by a retired police officer, whom he named and said worked at the plantation company.

Masa also said this was the same man who allegedly tried to stop the affected NCR landowners from taking away freshly harvested fruits planted on their acreage without their permission to sell at the nearest mill.

He urged the police to investigate the incident and punish the masterminds behind it.