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Villagers may seek revenge at ballot box

Time has not healed the anger of displaced Beluran villagers
whose houses were destroyed and crops poisoned by
Sabah Forestry officials.
KOTA KINABALU: An infamous incident in 2006 that saw 33 houses belonging to the Dusun and Sungei natives in Kampung Koiboton set alight by Sabah forest rangers has returned to haunt the Barisan Nasional leaders in Kota Marudu.

Long-serving MP, Dr Maximus Ongkili, and his immediate boss, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the president of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) may be treading on shaky ground in the district if they thought the overzealous actions of Forestry Department staff had nothing to do with them.

The burning of every kampung house and the poisoning of young rubber trees on the instructions of the government as a lesson for supposedly encroaching into the Paitan second class forest reserve has not been forgotten.

And neither has the community in Kampung Koiboton in Tangkarason, Beluran, forgiven them despite the passing of several years since the incident.

One of the 150 affected family heads, Jaipin Mohigal, hinted that the consequences of the government’s action will catch up with all those who had stood by.

The 13th general election is expected to be held anytime between November 2011 and April 2012.

“After the 2006 incident, the forestry staff came back twice; the last time they came was last year.

“This time they used chainsaws to cut down our houses and only days ago they came again to bar us from clearing the bushes around our matured rubber trees.”

“I ask them now are they happy with their actions? They broke our zinc roofs and demolished everything. We lost our homes… we lost our livelihood.

‘Pairin was silent’

“The ruling leaders merely watched our agony…” Mohigal said in an exclusive interview with FMT at his rented residence in Likas where the 61-year-old now provides “traditional massage” to clients.

“Where was Pairin when we needed him most? Why was he silent and not pleading on our behalf?

“Was it because we are just orang kampung and are not important?

“Did they not have feeling at all when the government did those atrocious acts against us?” he asked.

“The government is donating millions of ringgit to other victims in various countries, but what did Malaysia give to us? They destroyed our livelihood.

“Does PBS and its master Umno deserve our votes then? I don’t think so.

“We always supported the government, but enough is enough… they have just gone too far.

“The British colonial (government) was better in treating the natives,” said Mohigal speaking in his native Dusun.

‘Government invited us to cultivate land’

Mohigal, a former policeman, said he could understand if non-Dusun leaders were silent about the treatment meted out to them by the forestry staff, but could not comprehend why Pairin, Ongkili and the PBS had ignored the incident and had gone about their business as though nothing had happened.

“Everybody seems to collaborate with each other not to talk much about our predicament and hardship.

“The government leaders are talking about millions of ringgit spent to save the Orang Utans in Beluran and Sandakan, but in fact they are dwindling in number.

“You know who is to blame,” he said, holding the government accountable for parcelling out large tracts of forested land to timber companies to manage as Forest Management Units (FMUs).

When opposition leader Jeffrey Kitingan came to see Mohigal and other villagers in Kota Marudu soon after the burning down of their houses in 2006, Mohigal told his guests that “if not for their faith in God, there would have been bloodbath in Tangkarason”.

“We came to Koiboton 20 years ago in response to the government’s call to open up more agricultural land and look how they treated us.”

Officers without name tags

“The FMUs were only established recently but the staff are being used to chase us away and some of them are right now tapping the rubber trees we planted years ago… this is utmost absurdity,” said Mohigal.
“If Chief Minister Musa Aman is all for Forestry Department’s action I can understand but I don’t understand why Pairin, the Huguan Siou (paramount leader), is keeping silent while we were being chased out from our NCR lands.

“Also, why do these officers come without their name tags and keep saying the chief minister has no power on this matter. Who are they protecting? What is going on?

“The Pitas rangers told my people in Koiboton that officers from Beluran or Sandakan would detain us (if we continued to protest). So what?

“They have detained a few of us in the past. We have gone to the court and are now waiting for an appeal hearing date to be fixed… we will not surrender,” he said.

Putrajaya worried

The fact that hundreds, if not thousands of voters, could turn against BN in the coming general election has got Putrajaya worried that it could lose its “fix-deposit” state, as Sabah has come to be known in the peninsula.

The federal government has sent its Biro Tatanegara (National Civics Bureau) officers to Kota Marudu and possibly Koiboton, Tangkarason.

One of the Koiboton residents who requested anonymity told FMT that Ibrahim Saad, the Sabah director of Biro Tatanegara, a federal agency in the Prime Minister’s Department that normally does strategic surveys and campaigns for BN, was in Kota Marudu to meet some of the victims yesterday.

He is also expected to go to Tangkarason to study the situation.

“We were told by Mohigal that some of us, especially the elders, would have to meet one Ibrahim Saad regarding our problem,” he said.

Mohigal said he was only told of the meeting on Wednesday.

He said he would definitely go to Kota Marudu even though he had just returned from his hometown on Tuesday.

A Kota Marudu district office staff said that district officer Luvita Koisun had revealed that “an important meeting will take place tomorrow on land matters”.

Local PBS leaders there are also whispering that the Tangkarason case in Beluran has a bearing on the voting trends in Kota Marudu as a majority of the victims are from the district.

Mohigal himself came from the same Kampung Bunsadan, where Ongkili, who hails from Tambunan, built his house after he became the MP for the district.

FMUs and Yong

The FMUs are awarded to companies to develop the land, some for oil palm, rubber or purely for the replanting of timber trees.

One thing that is certain about FMUs is that once granted, all mature trees are immediately felled as a precursor to “real” land development.

Mohigal said he and others were told by Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Yong Teck Lee that when the FMUs were introduced, there was a certain regulation that allowed native kampungs found inside a proposed FMU to be excised from the FMU.

“Yong explained to us last year on the provisions when we asked him about the FMU introduced while he was the chief minister.

“He said the state government could invoke that particular provision to solve the problem in Koiboton and elsewhere where it matters.”

Tangkarason is quite a delicate case.

While the Forestry Department argued that the kampung is within the Paitan second class forest reserve, the villagers claim it is their NCR land.

To make matters worse, an FMU encompassing 10,000 hectares was recently carved out of the area and surveying is still being done.

The High Court ruled against Mohigal and his group last year after the villagers had “shown the wrong map”.

Their appeal is now pending.

“But who came first to Koiboton? Who is the priority of the government of the day?” asked Mohigal.

His question may have nothing to do with the impending general election but, with the sudden flurry of activity there, it would be hard to think otherwise.

And later this month, Pairin or Maximus may be forced to address the broader issue of land reform during the party’s annual congress from Oct 29-31.

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