Anti-dam blockades in Malaysia reach day 100!
A birthday cake for the Baram blockades: letâs celebrate the 100 days!
(BARAM, SARAWAK, MALAYSIA) Today, the indigenous peoples living in the Baram valley in Malaysia have a reason to celebrate: They have successfully inhibited the work on the proposed Baram Dam as well as its access road for 100 days. The planned Baram Dam would flood a rainforest area of over 400km2 and displace up to 20,000 people from 26 villages.
From day one, the indigenous landowners announced that they will maintain the blockades until their ancestral lands and their rights are protected and the Baram Dam is cancelled. They have been manning two blockade sites, one at the access road near Long Lama and one near the dam site. Within the first week, they successfully chased all workers out: whether construction workers, surveyors or geologists, no one was allowed to stay on the indigenous land.
Sarawak Energy, Sarawakâs power supplier and dam developer, has so far not managed to resume work in the Baram region: Just before Christmas, they sent their workers back into the area hoping to take the Christmas celebrating indigenous groups by surprise. However, they found more people at the blockade camp than ever before: the indigenous peoples held their Christmas celebration right at the site.
On 19th December, Sarawak Energy sent tens of thousands of ringgit to the villages in Baram. Villagers from Long Mekaba reported that Sarawak Energy offered them RM3000 for a Christmas party. The villagers suspected that Sarawak Energy would interpret the acceptance of the money as the villageâs consent to the proposed dam. Therefore, right after New Year, a delegation from Long Mekaba filed a police report against this attempt of bribery. They handed in the full amount of money to the police. A couple days later, the villagers of Tanjung Tepalit followed their example. Refusing the cash means avoiding any sense of obligation to Sarawak Energy.
Peter Kallang, a spokesperson of the anti-dam group SAVE Rivers, explained: âGiving out money and food is what Sarawak Energy calls consultation.â Experience from the Murum Dam confirms that bribery is Sarawak Energyâs favoured strategy to silence opponents. A group of Penan that blocked the access road to the almost completed Murum Dam from September last year on, were forced into giving up their protest after 77 days: Sarawak Energy threatened to destroy the bridges that guarantee the access to the villages if the Penan didnât end their protests. Then, Sarawak Energy handed over up to RM23,000 in cash to each family. In the meantime, all villages affected by the Murum Dam have been moved to their new resettlement sites.
The people in Baram are determined to avoid the same destiny. They are currently building a permanent camp near the proposed dam site â they are getting prepared for a long struggle over their land.
The Baram Dam is highly controversial, as it would affect a very densely populated area in the rainforest and the second largest river system in Sarawak. The indigenous peoples would carry the social and environmental cost of the project, while companies owned by the family of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud would profit and receive contracts.
Until today, Taib and his government have failed to explain the economic necessity of the dams. Sarawak is currently facing a surplus in power: Inside sources from Sarawak Energy confirmed that the recently completed Bakun Dam is only running at half capacity: No one is buying the electricity. And the Murum Dam is meant to go online in 2015.
Sarawak Energy is under great pressure. They have not only faced accusations of blackmailing and bribery, but several major power blackouts in 2013 that caused great loss and damages. Sarawak Energyâs Norwegian CEO, Torstein Dale SjÃ¸tveit, has to face accusations of involvement in corruption: one complaint is pending in Malaysia and one in Norway. Under this level of international pressure, it is no surprise that Sarawak Energy will most likely not extend SjÃ¸tveitâs contract after November.
Watch the documentary "Save Sarawak.Stop the Dams" about the struggle against the Sarawak dams and for Sarawakâs indigenous peoplesâ rights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wewbJbo7I1Q
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