KOTA KINABALU - It is a bleak Chinese New Year for more than 1,500 villagers who are facing an uncertain future after being evicted from the land they had been occupying for more than 40 years.
The villagers of Kampung Air, just a stone's throw from Beluran tow in Sabah's east Coast, have been given until April 30 to move out from the 4ha that they had always assumed to be a village reserve.
Village Security and Development Committee chairman Andaraman Kahar said they only found out that the land they had built their houses on was privately owned when a notice board for the eviction was put up on Feb 12.
"To say we were stunned or shock is an understatement. How would you feel when you are thrown out from the house you have been living in for nearly half a century," he said.
The villagers began building their kampung houses on the land in 1971.
Andaraman said the villagers could not fathom as to how the land could become privately owned when the state government had acknowledged that it was a bona fide kampung area.
"A village chief was appointed in 1978 and the Village Security Development Committee was constituted here in the 1980's with the state government's approval," he said.
Beluran MP Datuk Ronald Kiandee said the village was established in 1965 and the initial occupants were members of the ethnic Tidung community.
"However some time in 1986, the Beluran district land utilisation committee (LUC) that included the District Officer and the Assistant Collector of Land Revenue approved an application from an individual for that kampung land," he said.
"How that approval came to be is a mystery. To me this shows carelessness on the part of the district officials then," said Ronald, the Deputy Parliament Speaker.
"They should have respected the villagers' right to the land," he said in adding that had been no prior application by the villagers to have the land officially designated as kampung reserve.
He said he had raised the matter with Beluran District Officer Suhaili Riman "and my hope is that the District Office will find some way of returning the rights of the land to the villagers."
Andaraman said the villagers like could only pray that they would given an alternative site near Beluran town to relocate their houses or be provided affordable housing.
But with virtually all land in the vicinity of Beluran town now privately owned and now affordable housing projects being built in the area, the affected villagers still face an uncertain future.