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JOHOR BAHRU – The Orang Asli community in Johor is being exploited by outsiders, and steps need to be taken to address this situation, said the Johor Ruler.

Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar said some of the Orang Asli (indigenous people) have been carrying out illegal clearing of land to plant oil palm, chop down sandalwood trees and also trap wildlife.

“We even have poachers all the way from Thailand working with them in Johor to trap endangered species.

“This clearly shows that they have been exploited by outsiders and middlemen,” he said in an exclusive interview on his birthday on Thursday.

Sultan Ibrahim said the Orang Asli community in Johor was well taken care of as the government has built roads, houses, schools and surau. Some places even have Internet facilities.

“However, some of them have even cut down up to 300 acres of land for timber or to plant rubber trees or oil palm.

“Where do they get the money to carry out such activities?” he said.

He added that even his own estates, covering more than 100 acres, had been encroached.

“They claim it is tanah rayau (an ancestral burial ground). I do not chase them out.

“I have allowed them to harvest their crops and then leave. In the meantime, they do not need to pay rent to me,” he said.

Sultan Ibrahim said that as the custodian of the Orang Asli in the state, he suggested that their land be made sultanate land, similar to national parks, which can prevent exploitation.

“Sultanate land also has its own enactment, and the land cannot be encroached upon or exploited by others,” he said, adding that it was time that the Orang Asli also adhered to the law.

Citing an example of such exploitation, Sultan Ibrahim said an Orang Asli was merely paid 10 sen for a piece of rattan that was made into rattan products and sold for as much as US$15 (S$20) in Singapore.

He added that his Kembara Mahkota event this year would encompass his visit to the rural areas including the Orang Asli settlements.

“Let me see for myself their cleanliness and hygiene,” he said, adding that during the recent floods, his boats were used to help the affected Orang Asli.

The Ruler also said a group of lawyers, who had previously taken the government to court in Bekok, were involved in similar cases in Kuala Masai and Kampung Peta.

“They are exploiting and making money out of the Orang Asli,” he said.

This group, he added, was going around such settlements to get people to sue the government.

Sultan Ibrahim said he was aware of the locations of the Orang Asli settlements statewide, as it was his great-great-grandfather, Sultan Abu Bakar, who had placed them at these places.

“I will no longer compromise on this issue. These people are the guides for hunters. Some hunters even bury their rifles near Orang Asli settlements and dig them up when they go into the jungle,” he said.  THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK