The folks from Rh. Ranggong, Niah held a brief demonstration in front of Kuching court complex on Thursday, Aug 19, 2010. (Photo: Brimas / Mark Bujang)

KUCHING – It was a lively start of the trial between Rh. Ranggong vs BLD Resources Sdn. Bhd at the Kuching High Court, on Thursday as the representatives of the longhouse briefly held a peaceful demonstration in front of the court complex.

Around 80 representatives of the longhouse came in two buses at 9am and congregated in front of the court complex and held a short demonstration before proceeding into the court house where the trial started at 10am, according to Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) Executive Director Mark Bujang.

Three witnesses from three neighbouring longhouses were called to testify and acknowledge the existence of the native customary rights claims of the residents of Rumah Ranggong and their communal boundary between them.

“The three witnesses are Tuai Rumah Belili anak Liom from Rumah Belili, Buak anak Jenau from Rumah Ampau and Tuai Rumah Umpor Anak Lunsa from Rumah Umpor.” said Brimas director Mark Bujang in a press statement today.

The case was presided by Justice Datuk Albert Linton, while Harrison Ngau Laing represented the Plaintiffs – Changgai Anak Dali and others of Rumah Ranggong.

George Lo represented the First Defendant, BLD Resources Sdn. Bhd. and Joseph Cheoh represented the Sarawak Land and Surveys Department and the Sarawak State Government.

Counsel Harrison Ngau center held brief discussion with the plaintiffs outside the court room, Thursday August 19, 2010.

In 2008, BLD Resources sued Changgai Anak Dali for allegedly trespassing into the company plantation. Changgai disputed this suit saying that he and the residents of Rumah Ranggong have native customary rights (NCR) over the said land.

In fact, in 1999, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between BLD Sdn. Bhd (sister company of BLD Resources), Sarawak Land Development Board (SLDB) and the NCR landowners at Ulu Niah, where Rumah Belili and Rumah Ranggong were the participating parties, to develop the Ulu Niah NCR land based on the joint venture project called ‘konsep baru’.

However in 2008, the NCR joint-venture was subsequently cancelled saying government had made a mistake identifying the land as NCR.

In 2001, Sarawak Deputy Cheif Minister II, Alfred Jabu and former Sarawak Minister for Housing Celestine Ujang handed out a 10 percent (est. RM294,990) upfront payment to the participants of the scheme.

However, the promised dividends, bonus payments to the scheme participants were remaining unpaid nearly 10 years later following the residents protested against BLD’s suit.

In attempt to pacify the landowners anger, in 2008, Jabu handed them a cheque amounting to RM436,708.20 purportedly as dividends and bonuses.

Despite the payments BLD had not not withdrawn suit against the landowners, and Sarawak state government continues to recognise the land as native customary land.

The trial was adjourned at 4pm and set to resume on Jan 24-28 next year.