KOTA BARU: The Kelantan government has ordered an immediate halt to logging activities in the Balah forest reserve until further notice – a decision aimed at easing the escalating tension between loggers and orang asli in the area.
State Forestry Department director Zahari Ibrahim said yesterday’s decision was made to ensure peace among the orang asli and loggers.
The latter had faced blockades put up by the orang asli last week and on Sunday.
The decision by the state government, he added, had been agreed to by all parties.
Blockades have been set up at two locations about 70km from Gua Musang, one at Pos Tohoi-Pos Gob and another at Kampung Bering in Pos Pasik.
Zahari said a meeting would be arranged between the orang asli groups and loggers to solve the issue amicably, so that felled logs could be taken out and not left to rot.
“This is the only peaceful approach we can broker between the disputing parties.
“But the orang asli group must not be stubborn and shun the meeting, otherwise things will get ugly,” said Zahari.
He said those who entered the forest reserve without permission from the Forestry Department could be charged with trespassing. They include media personnel and representatives from non-governmental organisations.
In a related development, Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob said he would leave the matter to the police.
“The loggers and concession holders had been licensed to conduct logging in the disputed area. I would rather leave the matter to the police to investigate,” he said after opening a seminar on solid waste.
The orang asli groups have refused to allow anyone to breach the blockades or to discuss their demands with anyone, saying that they would only deal with Ahmad.
The standoff between loggers and orang asli is the first in Peninsular Malaysia.
Previously, only Sarawak had seen a direct confrontation between the Kenyah, Kayan and Penan indigenous people and the authorities in 2007 when the groups put up a blockade to stop the RM4bil Baram hydro-electric project that affected 20,000 people.