KUCHING, Jan 12 — Residents of the Punan Bah longhouse are suing the Sarawak government and nine others for alleged encroachment into their native customary rights (NRC) land at the Belaga district in the Kapit division.

The suit was filed by three individuals — Gebril Atong, 39, Sayang Kawang, 72, and Medik Kojan, 63 — who claimed to represent about 1,000 residents.

Aside from the state government, the other respondents named were seven timber and plantation-related companies, the Sarawak Forestry Department director, and the state’s resource planning and environment minister.

Lawyer Paul Raja, who is representing the plaintiffs, said over 100,000 acres of NCR land claimed by the Punan Bah longhouse residents has been violated.

In their statement of claims, the plaintiffs said the encroachment has resulted in several rivers at their area being polluted, and had affected their lives.

They further claimed that their hunting grounds and fishing zones were destroyed or disrupted as well as fruit trees and crops planted by them or their forefathers destroyed and felled for the first to seventh defendants’ benefits.

Gebril, Sayang and Medik said they and the Punan Bah residents are the rightful owners, claimants, proprietors or licensees of the NCR land or forests within the vicinity of their longhouse and farmhouses situated at Punan Bah, Belaga.

They said that the NCR land consists part of their communal land or territorial domain locally referred to as “Baliu Kano” or “Ipung Popien” (preserved forests) and or “talun” (farmed land or secondary forest) created before Jan 1, 1958 and such NCR land is recognised by the Sarawak Land Code.

The plaintiffs said that the land is not just a source of livelihood to the plaintiffs, but also constitutes life itself as the land is also fundamental to them and their descendants’ social, cultural and spiritual survival as native people.

The case will be heard before judge Supang Lian in the Sibu High Court from February 1 to 5.