19 July 2013

Two grassroots Orang Asli groups have strongly accused the government of trying to steal as much as 60 percent of their ancestral land by pushing through a law in Parliament without consulting the people most affected.

Orang Asli representatives from villages in Pahang and Malacca have put their voices to a growing protest against Act 134, an amendment to the Aborigines Act 1954.

The amendment, they said, would allow the government to assign Orang Asli land titles to individuals, breaking up the communal land ownership that is now in practice. The result is that land that is not assigned, which could make up the bulk, would then revert to the state governments.

"We are sad to hear about Act 134... with this Act, as much as 60 percent of our land will be lost," Shafie Dris ( left ) from Jaringan Orang Asli Pahang (JOAP) told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after submitting a two-page petition to Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal.

"These are the lands where our ancestors are buried and the fruits from which have been jointly shared and used to sustain our way of life."

Shafie warned that the government's attempt to parcel out the land under the proposed amendment would also cause friction among the Orang Asli community who currently share the land.

The representative from Jaringan Orang Asli Malacca, Faridah Goskan ( right ), chimed in and said the livelihood of the Orang Asli was already under threat as the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) has lured many out of their forested lands for minimal payouts.

Many of these Orang Asli were given small land grants, for which they were then required to pay a hefty tax afterwards to keep, Faridah said.

Last week, Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Villages Coalition (JKOASM) coordinator Tijah Yok Chopil also protested against the government's move to amend the 1954 Act.

Tijah said that the government has yet to engage with human rights activists, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and the Bar Council about the amendment.

Jakoa was subsequently reported as saying that it would consult the Orang Asli community in a meeting on July 24-25, which had been postponed from its original July 7-8 date.

"We ask that the meeting be cancelled as it does not involve the people who matter or who know about the way the Orang Asli live," JOAP's Shafie said.

He cited cases in the past when these meetings were merely subterfuge, used to build a false consensus among Orang Asli community by only allowing 'pre-approved' delegates to attend.

"They have no right to decide on what the Orang Asli have protested against all this while," Shafie said.


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