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KUCHING, May 27 — Former Sarawak deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem anak Miri died at his home in Tabuan Jaya here his morning, after a short illness. He was 82.
Tajem, a former Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand, breathed his last at about 8am after complaining of an aching back to his family members.
His second son, Raymond, when contacted by Malay Mail, said his father had sought treatment at a private medical hospital last Friday and yesterday.
“He was given some medication by the doctor to treat the backache,” he said, adding that he and his family members did not know the exact cause of death yet.
Lawyer Dominique Ng Kim Ho described Tajem as a top-notch legal mind, who fought for the rights of the Dayak community, especially when it came to Native Customary Rights (NCR) land.
He said he and Tajem represented a group of NCR landowners, led by headman Masa anak Nangkai, in a suit against the state government and state-owned Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA).
The native landowners won the suit in the High Court and Court of Appeal, but lost in the Federal Court last year.
“Despite being very sick, he was with me during all the court appearances,” Ng said.
Tajem was born on March 15, 1936 in Sungai Tanju, Samarahan.
After completing his secondary education at St Thomas’ School in Kuching, he read law at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand where he graduated with LLB and became the first Iban to become a lawyer in 1965.
After a brief service with the government, he entered politics when he joined the defunct Sarawak National Party (SNAP) in 1973.
The following year, he won the Lingga state seat on a SNAP ticket and successfully defended it in 1979 and 1983.
On March 23, 1981, he was appointed Sarawak deputy chief minister and state minister of agriculture and rural development, which he held until 1987.
In 1983, he and a group led by former federal minister Tan Sri Leo Moggie formed Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) after they left SNAP following a leadership crisis.
In 1996, former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed Tajem to be the Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand which he served until August 16, 2000.