KUCHING: More than 300, mostly indigenous people staged a peaceful demonstration near Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) yesterday morning to protest the building of a series of dams in Sarawak while the International Hydropower Association (IHA) is holding its four-day biannual congress.
Organised by Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network and assisted by other local NGOs, the protest started at 10.30am and ended an hour later after they had submitted written demands to IHA executive director Richard M Taylor.
Among those present were chairman of Baram Protection Action Committee Philip Jau, Save Rivers vice-chairman Raymond Abin and secretary Mark Bujang. They are also community leaders.
Among their demands are all work on Mega dams in Sarawak be stopped, Native Customary Rights land (NCR) of indigenous people be observed; the government resolves all outstanding issues of completed dams such as Batang Ai and Bakun Dam; Sarawak Energy’s membership with IHA be suspended and its CEO Torstein Dale Sjotveit removed from the board of IHA, and IHA stop promoting Sarawak dams as ‘best practice’.
“We don’t want mega dams in Sarawak any more. Our main message is to save our people from mega dam project.
“We want the congress to listen to the voice of the people here. Many people are protesting against mega dams in Sarawak. We don’t want our lands, our homes to be destroyed by mega dam projects,” said Philip.
The community leaders raised their objection to IHA for not being “given a voice inside the congress”. They said the peaceful demonstration was their last resort after having exhausting all other means including endless petitions to the authorities.
Taylor, meanwhile, told them that their voices had been heard and urged them to be rational.
He said there were already three representatives from the protest groups joining the congress in addition to other global environmental champions concerned about the wellbeing of those affected.
“We have tried to get as many people as possible into this congress. I know it is not satisfactory from your point of view, but we have made a sincere effort to get a balanced discussion going on there.
“You have delivered a powerful message this morning. I have received your statement. I will make sure your statement is available to everyone inside that room. That is the best I can do,”
He added that he could not promise “no more dams” in Sarawak but was willing to mediate between the affected people and the state government.
The protesters dispersed peacefully at 11.30am, but promised to hold another peaceful one at Kuching Waterfront at 5pm yesterday.
Save Rivers meanwhile will hold an alternative conference here on Thursday to provide a platform for the indigenous people to air their views.
The protesting group consisted of people from various ethnic groups in Sarawak including Penans, Kenyahs, Kayans and Ibans.
Several of them such as Lawing Balang, 65, and Dominique Langat, 51, from Long Tugang in the Baram had to travel a day to reach Miri and another day by bus to reach Kuching.
Meanwhile, four Penans —Gruka Beti 46, Pasang Pao 37, Usat Karang, 47 and Gali Suding, 35 — left the group after discovering that the trip was not the one they signed up for.
“We were told we were coming to attend a one-day conference in Kuching.
“We were not informed that we would be here for many days and for different purposes,” Gruka said.