Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P Waythamoorthy has denied Kelantan Deputy Menteri Besar Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah's claim that the government plans to relocate the Orang Asli community from Kampung Kuala Koh.
In a statement today, Waythamoorthy clarified that the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) has no intention of moving the Bateq tribespeople out of the village.
"Jakoa has never stated plans to relocate the Bateq community to any new location, and this has never been raised, either through the media or in any department meetings.
"The government is sensitive and respects the traditional way of life of the Bateq community.
"They are more comfortable in their natural surroundings and it is not reasonable to relocate them from their place of origin to somewhere else," he said.
Amar (photo) claimed yesterday that Jakoa was planning to move the villagers to a "better location" to better manage environmental, health and safety risks.
The Bateq community there was recently besieged by a health crisis after losing 15 people over the past month – including a three-year-old – to a respiratory illness.
Responding to Amar's statement, Gua Musang Orang Asli Development Association (Moada) president Nasir Dolah said such a move was "unrealistic" in solving the problems faced by the community.
"Jakoa should instead be discussing its efforts, through the central government, to increase the standards of basic utilities, such as electricity, clean water, and economy of the Bateq community," he said.
In the statement released before Waythamoorthy's clarification, Nasir also expressed concern that any relocation would enable state government projects to be developed in the original location.
After extensive checks – which included efforts to retrieve the bodies of 12 of the deceased Bateq people laid to rest in various parts of the forest – the Health Ministry announced that the community was suffering from a measles outbreak.
While it was confirmed the recent death of the three-year-old toddler was due to the disease, authorities have yet to officially determine the cause of the other deaths.
The issue also raised concerns over the welfare of the community, the protection of their ancestral lands, and the preservation of clean water sources.
Waythamoorthy said Jakoa is working with the Kelantan Health Department to immunise the Bateq community, while also organising health campaigns to raise awareness.
There will also be a gotong-royong to clean up the homes of the Bateq community's homes in Kuala Koh, he added.
The minister noted that Jakoa has also reached out to the Water, Land, and Natural Resources Ministry to expedite the supply of treated water to the village.