Iban and Bidayuh communities suing oil palm company for encroachment of NCR

KUCHING, (16 September 2002) - 50 Iban and Bidayuh families from the interior area of Serian District, Samarahan Division, Sarawak and hundreds more of their relatives and supporters some from as far as Lundu and Sri Aman packed the Kuching Court Complex this morning to witness the hearing of the High Court suit which the communities' filed against an oil palm company, Tetangga Akrab Sdn. Bhd. for encroachment into their native customary rights (NCR) land.

In their suit, the natives alleged that the land covered by the provisional leases issued by the State Government to the company in 1999 over two areas of land near the Sarawak-Kalimantan (Indonesia) border, identified as Lot 131 Sungai Kedup Land District and Lot 2977 Melikin Land District, are all within the native's NCR land which they had inherited, continuously used and occupied since the time of their ancestors.

They claim that their NCR are derived from and recognised by the common law and also by all legislation relating to land passed in the state since the time of the Brookes' Administration in Sarawak. And since they have prior rights to the land, the provisional leases issued are subjected to their said rights.

The company however contended that the natives have no rights over the said land and even if they do, those rights had been extinguished in 1935 and 1959 when two protected forest, namely, the Balai Ringin Protected Forest and Krangan Protected Forest were constituted over the said land. As such, there cannot be any NCR over the said land anymore when the provisional leases were issued.

The natives denied of any such protected forest constituted over the said land and if there was, they would have been informed about it by the relevant authorities as required by the Forest Ordinance, 1934 and the Forest Ordinance, 1954 which was the law on the constitution of protected forest in Sarawak.

The hearing is expected to take weeks and elders of the communities will be giving oral testimonies.

The natives are represented by Mr. Dominic Ng and Mr. Harrison Ngau Laing while the company is represented by Mr. William Chang, Ms. Evonne Ho and Ms. Ratanah Devi.

The case is heard by Judicial Commissioner Dato' Zakaria Sam.