Borneo tribal headman who fought logging found dead

By Sean Yoong
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) 1-08

Indigenous tribespeople demanded a police investigation during early January into the apparent death of a village chieftain who fought against logging in Borneo’s jungles.

Kelesau Naan vanished Oct. 23 while checking an animal trap near the remote village of Long Kerong in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sarawak, said Naan’s nephew, Micheal Ipa.

Villagers during December found what they believed were Naan’s skeletal remains in the area, which has experienced tensions over logging activities opposed by the Penan tribal community, Ipa told The Associated Press by telephone.

Ipa said he and some 100 other Penans lodged a police report during January seeking an investigation into the matter. Police officials in Sarawak’s Miri district could not immediately be contacted.

“We believe he has been killed by people involved in logging,” Ipa said.

Naan’s family said his remains were found and that some of his bones were broken, indicating he had been assaulted, Ipa said.

Naan, 70, has been a key figure in anti-logging efforts by the Penans, who say the timber industry is destroying their ancestral lands and snatching their customary rights over the forests.

State government authorities and many timber companies have rejected the claim, insisting that the industry practices sustainable logging.

Penan communities often erect road blockades to hinder logging. Naan’s disappearance came ahead of what villagers believe are plans by companies to resume logging, which has stalled in recent years in areas surrounding Long Kerong.

International anti-logging groups have voiced concerns over Naan’s disappearance, saying he was an initiator and key witness in an unresolved Penan land rights court case.

“Long Kerong is one of the few Penan communities that, by fierce resistance, has managed to keep the loggers at bay and preserve parts of their communal forests,” the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss-based advocacy group, said in a December statement.

Despite cultivating rice and vegetables on small farms, many Penans remain reliant on forests for food and other necessities.