Basel, 16 January 2007
MEDIA RELEASE, BRUNO MANSER FONDS, BASEL / SWITZERLAND
EU delegation to visit Penan blockade area without meeting the Penan
Community spokesman: "Our people are expecting the delegation to meet us"
An official EU delegation enquiring about the legality and sustainability of timber production in Malaysia is set to travel to the Penan areas in Sarawak later on this week. However, it has been learned that the EU delegates are not going to meet the Penan communities despite an invitation by the headmen and an open letter to the delegation by a number of European and Malaysian NGOs.
The EU delegation's travel is part of the negotiations between the EU and Malaysia to reach a "Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA)" to control illegal logging and work towards sustainable forest management in Malaysia. While the Malaysian government hopes that its national timber certification scheme, the MTCC, will be accepted as a guarantee of legality, Malaysian and European NGOs point to the fact that MTCC fails to address the crucial issue of indigenous landrights.
A clear example of violating indigenous peoples' rights is the certification by the MTCC of a logging concession operated by the Malaysian Samling group in one of the last remaining primary rainforest areas of Sarawak. Samling's operations have been granted the MTCC label without the informed consent of the affected Penan communities. Despite immediate and ongoing protests by the Penan, who have been living in the area for centuries and claim Native Customary Rights in a pending court case, the certificate has not been withdrawn. A logging road blockade set up by the Penan prevents Samling's operations in large parts of the certified concession.
As part of a current EU delegation visit to Sarawak, the Malaysian government is organizing a trip for the delegates to the Upper Baram River area. A lthough the delegation will meet local villagers at a settlement located 15 kilometers from the certified concession, they have indicated not to be able to visit the Penan communities who are living inside the certified area. The trip is organized by the Miri Resident, a Sarawak government official who is known to be one of the driving forces behind recent attempts to dismantle the Penan blockade at Long Benali.
When the EU delegation expressed its wish to meet the Penan, who had called for a separate meeting at Long Lamam on the Sela'an River, the Malaysian officials claimed they were unable to organize the logistics. The facts speak differently: Long Lamam is closer to Miri, the delegation's starting point, than the village where the delegates are led to and can easily be reached from the main logging road by foot or by longboat in less than 30 minutes.
"Our boats will still be ready to pick up the delegates at the bridge across the Sela'an river", a Penan spokesman said to BMF on behalf of the Long Lamam headman Balang Toi. "We also have sufficient food provisions and the community has prepared traditional wood carvings and gifts made of forest produce to welcome the EU delegates." It has been learned that the headmen and villagers of more than 15 Penan communities are already on the way to Long Lamam where they will hope for the EU delegates to arrive. "It would be regrettable if we had to stay on our own. At least part of the delegation should accept our invitation."
The 12-person EU delegation will by led by Ms. Soledad Blanco, director of the International Affairs Unit of the European Commmission's Environment Directorate-General and Mr. Thierry Rommel, the European Commission's ambassador to Malaysia.
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