By Gan Pei Ling (thenutgraph)
SHAH ALAM, 22 April 2009: The Selangor government will withdraw its appeal to the Federal Court over the Sagong Tasi case involving the Temuan tribe’s land rights.
In a statement today, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the decision was made at state executive councilor (exco)’s meeting today.
He said the state legal advisor would inform the Federal Court tomorrow of the state government’s intention to withdraw the case.
“The state government believes in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and will continue to treat the Orang Asli community with the respect they deserve and that should have been accorded to them from the very beginning,” he said.
He expressed hope that the Selangor government’s decision would help address the problems faced by the Orang Asli.
The Sagong Tasi case, which has been in the courts since 2000, involves the 1995 acquisition of 38 acres of the Temuan’s customary lands at Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil for the construction of a highway to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
In 1996, seven Temuans including Sagong Tasi sued the federal and Selangor governments, construction firm United Engineers (M) Bhd, and the Malaysian Highway Authority for their loss of land and dwellings as a result of the government’s acquisition of their land.
Sagong Tasi in 2005 at a Human Rights Day event (Pic courtesy of Suaram)
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In 2002, the Shah Alam High Court ruled that the Temuans were unlawfully evicted from their ancestral lands, located in central Selangor.
Additionally, High Court Judge Mohd Noor Ahmad ordered all four defendants to compensate the Temuan plaintiffs for the loss of their land in what was a historical ruling.
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The four defendants then appealed to the Court of Appeal. But in 2005, Court of Appeal judges Ariffin Zakaria, Gopal Sri Ram and Nik Hashim Nik Abdul Rahman unanimously upheld the High Court ruling.
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Moreover, the Court of Appeal increased the compensation for the Temuans by including both their gazetted and non-gazetted land, compared to the High Court decision that asked for compensation to be paid for the gazetted areas only.
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas hailed the Selangor government decision as “morally and politically correct and just”.
“It is a logical conclusion to the position taken by the Pakatan Rakyat government on Orang Asli land rights issues,” he said in a phone interview.
He added that the Barisan Nasional government did not ever do the same while it was in control of the state government.
Nicholas said the Selangor government’s decision set an important benchmark for other state governments and agencies in dealing with the Orang Asli.
Khalid also said in the statement today that the state has formed an Orang Asli Land Taskforce to protect the propriety rights of indigenous communities.
The taskforce, to be launched on 4 May, will address land-related issues after taking into account the concerns raised in the 2005 Court of Appeal judgment regarding the gazette of Orang Asli land.
Nicholas, who is involved in the taskforce, said it would be able to address bureaucratic obstacles that the Orang Asli face when trying to claim their rights over native customary land.
Selangor exco for tourism, consumer affairs and environment Elizabeth Wong said the taskforce’s priority would be to identify customary land that have not yet been approved or gazetted by the state government.
“This is the most difficult issue to tackle but it is the most fundamental [for the Orang Asli],” she told The Nut Graph, adding that the taskforce would consult the historical records in the land district offices and the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli. It would also collaborate with historians, she said.
She said the taskforce hoped to resolve pending issues amicably in three months.
Orang Asli in Kampung Rembai, Selangor
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Khalid’s media officer Arfa’eza Aziz said the state did not want to take an adversarial approach and go to court every time there was a land dispute with the Orang Asli.
She said the taskforce would help the state settle these issues administratively.
The taskforce, which had its first meeting on 16 April 2009, comprise mainly Orang Asli representatives, and is chaired by a member of the community.
“Elected state representatives who have Orang Asli in their constituency will also be involved in the taskforce,” Wong said.
She added that the taskforce would work closely with an already established land taskforce co-chaired by Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong and Datuk Dr Prof Nik Md Zain.
Arfa’eza said there were about 14,000 Orang Asli in Selangor, mainly from the Temuan and Mahmeri tribes.