Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cops halt Orang Asli advance on Putrajaya

Police today stopped more than 2,000 Orang Asli from marching to the Prime Minister's Department in Putrajaya in a rare protest against what they deem to be the government's unfair land policy.

orang asli protest in putrajaya 170310The protest, dubbed the biggest Orang Asli demonstration in history by Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas, was stopped by a contingent of police officers 15 minutes after the march kicked off.

The Orang Asli protesters arrived this afternoon at the country's administrative capital in 40 buses and gathered at the Putrajaya Mosque.

They had planned to march from the mosque to the Prime Minister's Department to hand over a memorandum, signed by 9,071 Orang Asli throughout Peninsular Malaysia, to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

orang asli protest in putrajaya 170310The group, comprising the young, old and even children, held banners declaring 'Tanah kami, maruah kami' (Our land, our dignity), among others.

Some of them were dressed in their traditional attire, complete with loincloths and colourful headgear made of flowers, tree bark and coconut leaves.

Re-routed by police

The police told the protesters not to display their banners and redirected half of the crowd to the nearby Ministry of Rural Development, about 500m away.

They were then met by Rural Development Minister Shafie Afdal who engaged the protesters in dialogue and treated them to lunch.

The Orang Asli were told not to march all the way to the Prime Minister's Department but were allowed to send five representatives to hand over the memorandum.

orang ssli protest at putrajaya 170310 03The protestors eventually agreed to send a five-member delegation to the PM's Department despite the request being initially boo-ed by the crowd.

The rest of the protest group were then made to wait at the sidewalk, and were again barred from raising their banners and chanting slogans.

Shafie, representing Najib, received two separate memoranda, under the watch of about 20 police officers, at the gates of the PM's Department, some 200 metres away from the protestors.

orang asli protest putrajayaThe first, by Persatuan Orang Asli Semenanjung president Majid Suhut, demanded that the community have a say over the Orang Asli representative in Dewan Negara.

The memorandum was first submitted to prime mnister last December.

The second memorandum was handed in by Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Perak (JKOAP) secretary Tijah Yokchopil and pertained to the land ownership policy.

In this memorandum, the Orang Asli cried foul over the lack of consultation and the fact that they will be denied autonomy over their land, which will be instead be managed by developers.

They also object to the fact that the land proposed for their allocation only includes 15 percent of recognised traditional Orang Asli land.

'Reasonable demands'

shafie apdal and mps no defection pc 280808 04Upon receiving the memoranda, Shafie reassured the Orang Asli leaders that their recommendations will be taken into consideration when amendments to the National Land Act are tabled at the next parliamentary sitting.

"We open our ears to whatever grouses the public, in particular the Orang Asli, have. If anyone says we are depriving them, we are neglecting them, that's not true," Shafie (right) told reporters.

He said the protesters today came to Putrajaya to take photos as they have only seen the administrative capital on television.

"Some even took photos with me," he said.

Protestors cheered upon witnessing the handing over of memoranda, and triumphantly chanted 'Hidup Orang Asli' before dispersing at 3pm.

orang ssli protest at putrajaya 170310 02Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, at a press conference in the Parliament lobby, assured that reasonable demands by the Orang Asli would be taken into account.

He said he was not aware of the protest and the community's demands but stressed that the government has always supported the Orang Asli and taken an interest in their welfare.

"If they are unhappy, they can submit their views on it and the department concerned will scrutinise it. If there is any proposition which is reasonable, we will do what is necessary," he said.

Today's protest was organised by the Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association (POASM) and the Network of Orang Asli Villages Perak.

orang asli protest in putrajaya 170310According to coordinator Jenita Engi, representatives of seven states decided to demonstrate after negotiations with the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) earlier this month came to a dead end.

Among the complaints were the fact that only six to eight acres of land will be allocated to each household.

"We demand that all the land explored by our ancestors should be handed over to us, and not just these six to eight acres," she told Malaysiakini yesterday.

Activists want Orang Asli claims to their customary land recognised, saying their continual occupation and economic activities establish their ownership.

The Orang Asli community is also demanding that all restrictions be removed to allow them the right to sell their land.

They said the land policy is to be part of a proposed amendment to Act 134 of the National Land Act, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament by June.

It's our land

According to the Orang Asli, the new legislation will give them only 50,000 hectares of the 129,000 they claim.

orang asli slideshow colin nicholas"Who are you to give the land when it is already the Orang Asli's," said Colin Nicholas (right), coordinator for the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns.

Nicholas said the planned amendment to the Aboriginal People's Act would give each family only two to six acres of land.

"Once they get this plot of land, they will lose (their rights to) other plots of land," he said.

Shafie confirmed the proposed amendment would give each each family two to six acres but said the terms were not final.

orang asli protest putrajaya"This is not finalised so that's why we need their views. We are willing to listen," he said.

The Orang Asli make up less than one percent of the country's 28 million population and are generally disadvantaged in terms of income, health, education and living standards.

This is the second street protest by the Orang Asli this year, with the first having taken place in front of the JHEOA hospital in Gombak, Selangor, on Feb 24.

courtesy of Malaysiakini

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