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Showdown looms between police and villagers in Pandasan

KOTA BELUD: Today, a budget day, in a remote corner of Sabah, a showdown looms between natives of two kampungs near Pandasan here and government officers who are scheduled to do a land survey on a proposed 3,000 acres agropolitan project on what the natives claimed as their native customary land.

Hundreds of native villagers of Kampung Bungaliu and Kampung Bubuk are resolute not to allow the survey done over their NCR land, which mostly for years have already been cultivated with rubber trees and other economic plants including hill paddy on shifting cultivation.

Leading the natives is the Bungaliu deputy JKKK chairman, Antonis Angkup, who would not budge and get intimidated even though the district officer had told them the surveying team would be accompanied by a strong police force. "This is our NCR land, it is not just state land, they must not simply force their way against our will as we know our rights and they are established as a law of the land," he said.

Angkup, 35, said the Bungaliu JKKK chairman, Santin Guntalib, told the villagers yesterday that the land survey team would commence their work in the two kampungs from today (Oct 7, 2011). "The chairman himself is against this agropolitan project here but he is under great pressure from the authorities not to openly speak against it, but we will oppose it no matter what may come," Angkup said.

According to Angkup, 800 acres of the total earmarked for agropolitan is in nearby Rosok Kanibungan while the remaning 2,200 acres would be carved out from Bungaliu and Bubuk areas.

Previoulsy Ankup himself had been called to the district office and given a shocking harassement and pressures by five government officials including the district officer for objecting to the proposed Federal-funded agropolitan project, purportedly earmarked to make Kota Belud a main food producer.

"I was called and they pressured me with a lot of strong words that i must not object to the agropolitan project because it is a huge project by the government," he had told a local lawyer-activist Peter Marajin who visited his kampung a few weeks ago.

Angkup, said he was not afraid to stand for his rights and the people's but he was uncomfortable as the five officers were bent to pressure him not to speak up his mind or convey the kampung people's view. "There is no logic in the project as we already planted rubber trees on some of the land, why must they come and cut down our trees and then re-plant them with the same rubber trees again?," said Angkup.

Marajin, who is also Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) supreme council member when contacted, said he would definitely monitor the situation closely. "I am sending my people to the ground, meanwhile i urge this government not to force its will against its own people who are yearning for more information and participation in decision-making in the billion dollar project," Marajin said.

"Participation by the rakyat is a tenet in democracy. Why these civil servants going overboard trampling on the heads of simple-minded kampung folks is unacceptable. Are they all suddenly experts on agropolitan that they must not listen to the people, the very beneficiaries? Do they know whose money they are spending?

"Or are they under strict order from politicians with vested interest that no dissenting voice on the proposed agropolitan project is acceptable to them? In our eagerness to bring development to the rural areas, we must also take into consideration the natives, the peoples' view in the areas affected. It is not just developing the land, it is about human development," he had said when he visited the villagers weeks ago.

The agropolitan project for Kota Belud involved opening of lands and re-planning development of thousands hectares of state lands for agriculture, especially rice, and where companies with links are slowly being brought into the picture.

This new issue would definitely bring to light more about the billion dollar agropolitan project. This district is already hit with heated debate everyday on the proposed half-a-billion ringgit Tambatuon Dam which was ironically planned to be sited at one of the most beautiful and highly populated kampungs in Kota Belud.

It has drawn the attention of both state and national political leaders and is set to be defended by the Federal and State governments after they relented on the now cancelled coal-powered electricity plant in Sinakut, Lahad Datu.

So far the MP of Kota Belud, Rahman Dahlan has postponed or rather avoided a scheduled debate on Tambatuon Dam with DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang who nevertheless turned up in Kota Belud weeks ago for the debate.

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