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Malaysian human rights commission rejects probe into death of anti-logging tribesman

Source:  Copyright 2008, Associated Press
Date:  February 14, 2008
Byline:  Julia Zappei
Original URL: Status DEAD


Malaysia's human rights commission has turned down a demand by tribespeople from the remote jungles of Borneo island to investigate the death of a tribal elder who had campaigned against commercial logging.

The government's Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, known by the Malay acronym Suhakam, said Wednesday that it would let police carry out the investigation into the death of Kelesau Naan, 70, to determine if he was murdered, as alleged by some villagers.

Naan, who spearheaded the Penan tribe's fight against loggers near Long Kerong village in Sarawak state, disappeared in October while on a solo hunting trip. Villagers found his skeletal remains and some of his belongings near a river in December.

Villagers say some of his bones were broken, leading them to suspect he was assaulted.

Human rights commissioner Mohamad Hirman Ritom said the commission would discuss next week whether to send its own mission to the village to investigate the death further.

"Unless it is really being seen that the police are dragging their feet ... it is not Suhakam's policy to go and meddle with how government agencies or enforcement agencies carry out their day-to-day activities," he said.

Naan's son said he was not happy with the decision.

"If the investigation is left with the police, they might not do it properly," said Nick Kelesau, 43, Naan's eldest son.

"My father was very familiar with the forest. ... How could he have died of natural causes or because of animals?" Kelesau said.

Naan was an initiator and key witness in an unresolved Penan land rights court case. Some Penan villagers have long protested against logging companies, which they say encroach upon their ancestral land and hurt their way of life.

But the Penan's claims to the state-owned land is disputed since there is no clear law granting Malaysia's indigenous people rights to the land they have lived on for generations.

Yap Swee Seng, director of the independent human rights organization Suaram, also called on Suhakam to investigate the case.

"This involves very fundamental human rights violations," he said. "This is not a separate case. It's probably a pattern of human rights violations, especially in relation to the dispute of land. These are long-standing issues."

Yap said two Penan activists disappeared in the 1990s, and Swiss activist Bruno Manser, who fought for Penan rights, vanished in Sarawak in 2000 while traveling through the jungle. He was declared dead by a Swiss court in 2005.

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