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Thursday, March 23, 2017

STAR: Re-build and Compensate the Kg. Bobotong Villagers

KOTA KINABALU - “The Sabah government and the State Forestry Department has failed the indigenous native community and their moral and legal duty to protect native and indigenous land rights and should take immediate and urgent steps to remedy the unwarranted and inhumane destruction of the village houses in Kg. Bobotong  to salvage its tarnished credibility,” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, STAR Sabah Chief and Bingkor Assemblyman in response to the intentional destruction of village houses in Kg. Bobotong in Tongod.

The destruction fiasco was totally uncalled for, more so with the Forestry Department enforcement turning out in full force with truckloads of other security personnel. 

“Why the unnecessary show of force to intimidate thes poor and hapless natives who were not doing anything more than exercising their indigenous rights to living off the land and ekeing out their daily living?” questioned Dr. Jeffrey.

“It is surprising and more unacceptable that the Tanduo intruders were treated better and more humanely when the Authorities and power that be took the steps to negotiate with them terrorists before any other action where taken” added Dr. Jeffrey.

The indigenous tribes in Sabah have existed long before Sabah or Malaysia came into being and there are archaeological finds that date back to more than 200,000 years in Bingkor area and 50,000 years later in Lahad Datu area.

Indigenous native land rights have pre-existed Sabah’s legislative land laws as in the current Land Ordinance in 1930 (Sabah Cap. 68) and certainly not the creation or gazetting of forest reserves in Sabah pursuant to the Forest Enactment, 1968.   

In other words, the creation of forest reserves cannot and should not be allowed to extinguish indigenous land rights.  The indigenous natives have always relied on these rights, which have existed since time immemorial and recognized by written law since the British colonial times, to live off their lands and claim native customary rights over them.

The numerous land grabs, hounding and eviction of natives from their native lands and destruction of their crops and plants as well as alienation to non-natives and outsiders since the 1990s have shown that the present Umno-led Barisan Nasional Sabah government does not truly protect and safeguard native customary rights over land.  If left unchecked and in time to come, local villagers will become landless beggars in their own land.

The Sabah government and State Forestry Department should re-build the destroyed houses and pay adequate compensation to the affected native villagers in Kg. Bobotong.  No amount of money will be adequate to compensate the trauma and distress of the villagers especially the young children who were intimidated by the forestry and security forces and the deliberate destruction of their houses and properties before their very own eyes.

To prevent further incidents in the future, the Sabah government should put in place further legislative provisions to clearly safeguard native customary lands and to ensure that indigenous native rights to land are adequately protected.

For a start, all unalienated State land should be declared and designated as “Native Reserves” under Section 78 of the Land Ordinance.  In addition, natives should be allowed to enter and occupy forest reserves subject to them not being allowed to remove any timber other than for their own and family use.   As a further step, as set out in STAR’s land masterplan, all alienations of State land should be based first and foremost on recognition of native customary rights and then next priority to be given to Sabahans not outsiders.

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