Malaysia — The state government will take action against those responsible for illegal smallholders at the Raja Musa forest reserve at Batang Berjuntai, Kuala Selangor.
Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said action would be taken against those who had mislead the smallholders into believing that the area was state land earmarked for agriculture.
Khalid said the authorities were also investigating allegations that a syndicate had been operating at the land.
He said the syndicate had allegedly collected money from the smallholders.
I want to nail those so-called brokers who collected money from these smallholders, he said.
Khalid said he believed that a group of people had been instrumental in creating the settlement, which is believed to be the largest illegal colony on the states forest reserve land.
Meanwhile, several NGOs expressed outrage over the encroachment into the Kapar and Raja Musa forest reserves.
They questioned how the two forest reserves, which are deemed crucial, have been housing occupants for several years.
The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) communications head Andrew J. Sebastian said that from the organisations point of view, both forest reserves should be given a high level of protection.
The Kapar forest reserve is a mangrove forest that plays an important role as a nursery for fish and prawns and also acts as a natural barrier against erosion.
It is important that we do not deplete this crucial forest reserve. In Kuala Selangor alone, a lot of mangroves are fast disappearing, to be replaced by aquaculture farms, he said.
He added that Raja Musa was a peat swamp forest which is the best carbon dioxide absorbing system.
While forest reserves are under the purview and jurisdiction of the forestry department, I believe that it had faced a lot of interference from other authorities and politicians previously.
Now that these incidents have happened, we must question two things – firstly, whether the forestry department has enough manpower and resources when monitoring and protecting forest reserves.
And secondly, whether there is a higher authority interfering with the job of the forestry department, Andrew said.
He said eviction of the occupants is the perhaps the best alternative now.
The state may have to look at the big picture. Even in places like Taman Negara and Endau Rompin, the indigenous tribes would have to move out from their ancestral land to areas that do not fall under forest reserves.
However, this issue must not be politicised, Andrew added.
The Global Environment Centre (GEC) director Faizal Parish said the Raja Musa forest reserve is one of the most important peat swamp forests in the country.
There have been many previous reports about peat fires there but these fires dont happen naturally.
The fires happen due to deliberate action of people who drain the water out from the peat and start burning to clear the forest, he said.
He said the best possible solution now would be to evict the occupants so that the forest could be restored and rehabilitated.
This peat swamp forest has a high chance of recovery as we have the experience and expertise to replant the trees and restore the place, he said.
He said previous state forestry department directors had told him him that action had been taken but they had encountered political interference which did not allow them to do their jobs.