Orang asli homes in Johor torn down

Orang asli homes in Johor torn down
Broken homes: A child crying in the middle of the village houses that were torn down by the authorities in Gunung Arong, Mersing, Johor.

MERSING - A group of orang asli women were about to start cooking when a group of 100-odd enforcement officers moved in to tear down eight wooden homes in the Gunung Arong forest reserve in Kampung Batu 10 on Tuesday, leaving 50 Jakun homeless.

The seven families are now living in makeshift tents by the roadside after their homes were torn down.

Village representative Awang Rambai, 49, said the operation involved more than 100 people, including police and Forestry Department officers.

"They told us to remove all our belongings and move into the jungle, or they would push down our homes and shoot our chickens and dogs," he said.

Awang said the community had lived there for six years and claimed the right to the land and forest produce.

"We wrote to the department, the Mentri Besar's office and even the Prime Minister, but we never got a proper reply," he added.

Several months ago, the authorities had told them to move to Kampung Kerpan in Rompin but they refused as there was no source of income there "while the forest has depleted".

"Here, I can do some farming and the forest is accessible. The government gave part of the forest reserve to loggers and miners, but why can't they let us stay?" Awang, who used to live in Kota Tinggi in Johor and Rompin, asked.

His wife Kamisah Alan, 43, said she was about to start cooking when she saw a team of officers coming. Holding back tears, the mother of six said she grabbed whatever she could before heading out to help the other families when the team ordered them to get out.

Siu Begani, 35, who lost his disabled person's identification card in the incident, said the orang asli had no choice but to sleep on the ground.

Siu, who lost his right leg in a mishap at work six years ago, said most of their daily provisions and children's items were damaged.

"We barely make ends meet, and now, most of our things are gone. How are we to survive?" he said in between sobs.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns public policy researcher/volunteer Chung Yi Fan said the orang asli only occupied a 2ha plot, which was nothing compared to that given to loggers and miners.

"The concern now is on the 20 to 30 schoolchildren. What is going to happen to them?" he said.

He said the state and federal governments needed to step in as it was their responsibility.

"They may enforce the law but they can't demolish the houses and leave them (orang asli) out in the cold," he said.

Chung said the authorities should not have acted in that manner, as it was not customary for orang asli to set up base in a village they did not belong to.

He said the group was "dumped" at the Pahang border about three years ago. "Why are they treated like animals?" he said.

The Jakun have long been living along south Pahang, mainly in Rompin and Pekan districts and central to northern part of Johor.

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