KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — More Orang Asli were arrested after the authorities moved in today to break a two-month-old blockade erected by the indigenous people at Gua Musang, Kelantan, to protect a forest reserve.
Lawyer and activist Siti Kasim said 41 Orang Asli have been taken into custody by the state Forestry Department, up from the initial 18 detained earlier this afternoon.
“41 Orang Asli now arrested by Forestry Department. I am heading to Gua Musang,” she wrote in an updated post on her Facebook page at about 7pm.
She commented in an earlier post that the 18 Orang Asli were placed in a truck hidden behind a tent at Kuala Betis, and alleged that they were not allowed to relieve themselves while their cameras and phones were confiscated by state Forestry Department officials.
She also shared on Facebook photographs by a user, Mohd Fauzi Mohd Azmi, that depicted rows of police officers; he said 27 Forestry Department four-wheel-drives and eight Land Rovers by the General Operations Force (GOF) police had entered the Simpang Petei blockade this morning.
“At about 11am, the entire strength of the Kelantan State Forestry Department and the General Operations Force, almost 100 people, are in front of the Orang Asli blockade at Simpang Petei,” Mohd Fauzi posted on Facebook.
Siti told Malay Mail Online that she was informed the Orang Asli blockade has been taken down, but could not verify it.
“They’ve taken away the so-called leaders ‘yang banyak cakap’ (who talk a lot),” she said.
National news agency Bernama cited Kelantan police chief Datuk Dr Ab Rahman Ismail saying that those nabbed were not under arrest but only detained so their statements could be recorded.
He was also reported saying the operation was led by the Kelantan Forestry Department involving some 200 officers as well as the state Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. The police were only providing security assistance to prevent any untoward incident.
According to the senior policeman, those detained were teenagers or students who might have been exploited by certain groups.
“What we see, the mastermind behind the blockade has escaped. We also demolished a shed built in the area that was used as an assembly point for the Orang Asli in the blockade,” he was quoted saying.
Bernama reported last month that over 200 Orang Asli had put up a blockade at the Balah Forest Reserve in Gua Musang since September 26 to prevent logs from being taken out from the area in their protest against logging.
Earlier this month, Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob reportedly told the protesters to stop the blockade or face legal action.
The state government reportedly issued a directive on October 3 to halt logging in the Balah Forest Reserve.