Chief Minister Taib Mahmud was met by demonstrators protesting at the destruction of the Penan's rainforest. (Photo: Survival International)

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud has expressed regret over the issue of the Penans being hurled at the state all the time by “unfriendly” non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Foreign NGOs, in particular he said held the wrong view that they should be left to roam the jungles like the orang utans.

However, he said, if the government left the Penans to roam like animals in the forests, then the state would be accused by human rights groups of not doing its duty to help them develop.

“To date, some 500 of the Penans are still wandering as nomads in the forests,” he said during a recent interview with a British television station at Oxford, near London.

Extracts of the interview were made available in a statement issued by the Chief Minister’s Office here today.

Nevertheless, Taib said, he was happy that most of the Penans had begun to settle down while some of them had been able to earn a good income from cultivating oil palm.

He said there were Penans among the civil servants, and added that they excelled in education at school.

“Although they are late starters, they are increasingly becoming part of the Sarawak community,” he said.

Taib said his visit to London was to look into the possibility of tapping the expertise and knowledge of the academia, particularly those at Oxford, on how to get in touch with big investors and players in the global market to participate in the development of the Tanjung Manis Halal Hub in Sarawak.

Also present at the interview were Sarawak Land Development Minister James Jemut Masing, Deputy Foreign Minister Richard Riot and Kuala Rajang MP Norah Abdul Rahman.