By Harald Eraker
Borneo Pulp & Paper's plans in the Malaysian state Sarawak on the Borneo island are not modest: A cellulose factory with a production capacity of 750,000 tonnes a year is to be built in the Bintulu district.
To supply the factory with easily available raw materials, the company has been given concession to plant 373,700 hectares of fast-growing tree species, like eucalyptus and acacia. In comparison this is more than twice the area of the Lorentzen-company Aracruz Cellulose's often mentioned eucalyptus plantations in Brazil.
- The project is one of several potential projects which Kvaerner is struggling to get, writes Sven Edstrom in Kvaerner Pulp & Paper Asia in a fax to NorWatch. He further informs that Kvaerner's interest lies in delivering a fibre line to the cellulose factory.
Already last summer, Kvaerner made advances to get the contract, but because of the economic crisis in the region, the commencement of the project and the distribution of contracts have been delayed repeatedly, according to Edstrom.
If the factory and plantations are realised, the project will conflict with the interests of the local population and the rainforest in the Sarawak lowlands, an area which is rich in species.
According to the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the project (Detailed Environment Impact Assessment for Proposed Chemical Pulp Mill, August -96), which NorWatch has had access to, 12 longhouses inhabited by 277 indigenous people (Iban people) are registered within Borneo Pulp & Paper's concession areas. The residents of 3 of the longhouses will have to move, while the rest of them lose their land. The report establishes that the Iban people have a minimum of education and that ownership of land is decisive for these people where each family controls approximately 30 hectares.
The plantations of the company will seize both forest areas which are already affected by intensive logging, and what the EIA refers to as "primary forest", in this case tropical rainforest.
The EIA has identified 12 endangered species of animals and 11 protected types of plants within the project area.
While the EIA recommends several measures to spare the rainforest and the indigenous people, others have engaged themselves directly on behalf of the Iban people.
The organisation Borneo Research Institute, which gives legal advice to affected indigenous people in the area, levels severe criticism against the project plans:
- The project will be a tragedy for the indigenous people. Without land their communities will dissolve, and their culture and their ability to survive will be destroyed, says Harrison Ngau from the Borneo Resources Institute.
On paper the Iban people in the 12 longhouses, like all indigenous people in Malaysia, have the proprietary right to their traditional areas (Native Customary Land) established by law. This implies that outsiders cannot undertake activities in their territories without their consent.
Only on paper
In reality, the industry and the authorities take the law into their own hands wherever they feel like it.
- Even if the law says that indigenous people have the right of disposal of their traditional areas, they must prove that certain areas fall into this category themselves. For example, the law says that the indigenous people must be able to prove that they have lived on and used the areas they claim before 1957. For many indigenous groups in Borneo, this is impossible, because their way of life is nomadic, John Kuntzli at the Bruno-Manser-Foundation in Switzerland explains. The organisation is named after Bruno Manser, the man who maybe above any other European knows the living conditions and culture of the indigenous people in Sarawak, after having lived with the Penan people for many years.
Kuntzli says that even in the few cases where indigenous people have managed to get the court's approval of their right to land, this means little or nothing in reality.
On December the 19th last year, people from an Iban community were shot by the police after having tried to prevent a timber company from logging in areas which belonged to the Ibans, according to the court. One was killed and two were severely injured, says Kuntzli. In his opinion this example illustrates what the indigenous people's right to land is worth in reality in Malaysia.
The Borneo Resources Institute is now assisting the Iban people in the 12 longhouses who are affected by Borneo Pulp & Paper, in challenging the authorities' annulment of land rights.
While they are waiting for arbitration as a consequence of their refusal to accept the compensation offered by the authorities, the Institute has, on behalf of some Iban families, asked the court to protect the families' land rights.
- But the other case which we are preparing for the Iban people is the more important one. In this case, we ask the court to declare that the authorities' annulment of indigenous peoples rights in the area is unconstitutional and therefore invalid, says Harrison Ngau.
According to Ngau, the authorities may expropriate land from private individuals only for public purposes, such as schools, hospitals, and public roads. But Borneo Pulp & Paper is a privately owned company, owned jointly by one company from Malaysia and one from Singapore.
Conflicts between local people and environmentalists on the one hand, and companies behind gigantic monoculture-plantations on the other, is an escalating phenomenon, especially in the South.
On the initiative of World Rainforest Movement (WRM), several international and national organisations gathered on June the 22nd in Uruguay to discuss the problems. The result was the launch of an anti-plantation-campaign, focusing on large scale plantations with fast-growing tree species in particular.
The campaign documents published by WRM say, among other things, that the large monocultures are to a growing extent promoted in the South. The combination of cheap land, low wages, and fast-growing trees produces wood at particularly low costs. When these large scale plantations invade grassland, agricultural land and forest areas, the result in one country after another is exhausted soil, environmental degradation, and growing local opposition.
For several months, NorWatch has tried to have Kvaerner's comments on the conflicts related to Borneo Pulp & Paper. But information manager Marit Ytreeide, who is the person NorWatch has been told to address on matters of this kind, has, in spite of promises from her secretary, not bothered to return the calls.
The only relevant information given to NorWatch by Sven Edstrom, is that Kvaerner, if they get the contract on the fibre line, will "use the most modern and environment-friendly technology available worldwide".
This is not the first time Kvaerner Pulp & Paper is involved in quite controversial projects of this sort. On the Indonesian island Sumatra, the company has delivered equipment to three pulp and paper projects worth around 1.2 billion Norwegian kroners in total. The three Kvaerner customers are in serious conflicts with local populations and the environment. But also in this case they evade responsibility (see NorWatch 17/97).
"If (the project plans) are not challenged and exposed to the international community, the affected indigenous people's protests will be suppressed, and the government will continue the annihilation of (the indigenous people's) rights in other parts of Sarawak."
Harrison Ngau at the Borneo Resources Institute
Kvaerner in Sarawak
Kvaerner seeks the contract for deliverance of a fibre line to Borneo Pulp & Paper's (BPP) planned cellulose project in Sarawak, Malaysia. BPP is a joint venture company, owned by Asia Pulp & Paper from Singapore and Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation from Malaysia.
Norwatch Newsletter 16/98