Police display caches of weapons confiscated during raid. (Photo: Zulazhar Sheblee/The Star)

It is an open secret that indigenous communities in Sarawak, Malaysia, who oppose the alienation of their lands for logging and oil palm plantations are routinely threatened by armed thugs suspected of being hired by timber and oil palm plantation companies.

Hitherto, the Malaysian police have mostly refused to act upon police reports lodged by natives against armed thugs with alleged links to the corporate world.

In some cases, this has led to accusations that police officers were acting in collusion with loggers and oil palm planters.

In an unprecedented move, the Malaysian police yesterday presented to the press in Kuching, Sarawak, a stash of weapons confiscated during a raid at an oil palm plantation in Karanga, Balai Ringin near Serian, Sarawak.

The weapons included a Cannon 737 calibre .177 air rifle, a homemade shotgun, two kwan dao (Chinese pole weapon), a pouch containing eight boxes of air rifle ammo, a 12-gauge shotgun shell, a 27 Kal 7.65mm pistol loaded with three bullets, box containing 20 Mirage 12-gauge shotgun shells, a tin containing six containing six 7.65mm bullets and further ammunition.

The police said they were following the movements of the suspect Kuueh Fook (35)

The burning question is against whom these weapons were used or were intended to be used and how many similar weapons stashes exist in timber camps and oil palm plantations over Sarawak.

Another question is if the plantation management was informed about the existence of these weapons on company premises and what measures the oil palm planters are taking against the illegal possession and use of arms.

In an immediate reaction, Sarawak state assemblyman and human rights lawyer, See Chee How, praised the police for their swift action and urged the police “to investigate a possible link of these dangerous weapons with the unsolved cases of brutal assault of an elderly farmer Surik Anak Muntai in March this year”.

Surik, a native landowner who resisted the encroachment of oil plam plantation companies on his ancestral land was brutally attacked outside a school when he was waiting to pick his son from school.

See told Malaysiakini that the weapons were found in the workers’ quarters of one of the two plantation companies that are operating in the vicinity of Surik’s village in Melikin.

The Bruno Manser Fund stresses that, in a number of conflicts between native landowners and corporate actors in Sarawak, there is an undercurrent of violence against the indigenous communities, particularly in a situation in which the courts increasingly recognise the native customary rights of the local communities.

The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes the police action and supports the demand by the Sarawak PKR that timber and oil palm plantations who are found to be hiring thugs should lose their licences. — BMF