ISKANDAR PUTERI, April 6 — Irresponsible parties who exploit the Orang Asli for commercial purposes are also responsible for illegal land exploration activities in more than 10 permanent forest reserves in Johor.

Johor Forestry Department director Datuk Salim Aman said that the land exploration involving the Orang Asli on permanent forest reserves were done in areas outside of their gazetted ancestral land.

He explained that the land areas were found to be cleared for large-scale rubber and oil palm plantations at a high cost, in addition to being used as a settlement.

"Gazetted permanent forest reserves is usually used as a wandering area for the Orang Asli to find natural produce and hunt for personal consumption and its area cannot be explored by any parties for commercial purposes.

"There have been permanent forest reserves in Johor that have been explored by Orang Asli and irresponsible parties, for both as a settlement and commercial purposes,” said Salim when met by reporters at the Johor Economic, Tourism and Cultural Office's Ramadhan breaking fast event at Fraser’s Place in Puteri Habour here last night.

Also present was Johor Tourism, Environment, Heritage and Culture Committee chairman K. Raven Kumar.

Salim was commenting on the issue of land exploitation in Johor following the recent proposal of gazetting Orang Asli land under "sultanate land” by state Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar.

The monarch was reported to have said that such a move would ensure better protection of the land.

Salim said based on investigations, the state forestry department believes there is the involvement of outsiders who exploit and make use od the Orang Asli to explore the permanent forest reserves in stages.

"We see the land being worked on in a systematic and planned manner, involving machines,” he said.

Salim said the state forestry department is currently collecting information to be channeled to the state government and awaiting for the next course of actions.

"The department will continue to monitor and collect information as the issue is within the our jurisdiction, pending the state government’s decision on it.

"Following the Sultan of Johor’s concern, we will take the appropriate action. However, we admit that we have to act carefully as it involves a sensitive issue," he said.

On March 16, Sultan Ibrahim, in his opening address at the Johor state legislative assembly, urged the state government to gazette Orang Asli settlements and reserves under "sultanate land”.

He said in that way, there is protection as no party can do as they please to the land.

Following that, on March 25, Sultan Ibrahim proposed on a Facebook post that the Orang Asli land in the state be made "sultanate land”.

He said this would ensure better protection of the land.

Sultan Ibrahim claimed that some of the Orang Asli in the state are being exploited by irresponsible quarters to encroach into their land to carry out illegal activities.

It is understood that Sultan Ibrahim expressed his disappointment after several Orang Asli were said to have encroached on the state’s permanent forest reserves to be used as large-scale rubber and oil palm plantations.