Malaysia, May 22 – About 300 Borneo tribespeople staged a protest at a world hydroelectric industry meeting in Malaysia on Wednesday to denounce dams they say are destroying forests and native ways.
Officials in the Malaysian state of Sarawak have for years been accused of ramming through controversial dams, and opponents have harshly criticised the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) decision to meet in the state.
Shouting “No more mega-dams,” and with signs saying “No forced resettlement,” protesters in feather-strewn traditional woven hats and decorative tribal beadwork demonstrated outside the meeting venue in the Sarawak capital Kuching.
Organisers said most of the protesters had travelled for days from the jungly state’s rugged interior.
“Holding the meeting here is a slap at us. We demand that the Sarawak government stop these mega-dams and start respecting our rights,” said Raymond Abin, 48, who said he was forced to move a decade ago to make way for the Bakun Dam, Malaysia’s largest.
The demonstration ended after its leaders presented a protest letter to IHA director Richard Taylor.
The IHA’s four-day meeting this week is held every two years and includes some of biggest hydropower-industry companies in the world.
Critics have called it an attempt by Sarawak’s controversial state chief minister for 32 years, Taib Mahmud, to “greenwash” his development policies in the Borneo island state.
NGOs accuse Taib of running Sarawak like a family business, enriching himself, his family and cronies through a corrupt stranglehold on the state’s economy and profiting from the dams and rapid harvesting of Sarawak’s forests.
His policies have led to a growing movement among Sarawak’s many tribal groups to protect their rights. Protests in the interior are regularly reported.
Dozens of Malaysian NGOs including the local offices of Amnesty International and Transparency International denounced Sarawak’s hosting of the meeting, accusing its government of “humanitarian and environmental crimes”.
Taib has previously denied wrongdoing, insisting the state must be developed.
Despite mounting allegations of graft, Malaysian anti-corruption authorities have so far failed to act against Taib, whose support is vital to keeping the country’s 56-year-old ruling coalition in power.