Jabu: NGOs used the Penans

(NST) KUCHING: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang believes the Penans were manipulated by Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to tell lies to a committee set up by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry last year.

The ministry formed the committee to investigate allegations of sexual abuse on Penan girls and women by timber camp workers in the deep in the interior of Baram in Miri Division.

The committee interviewed Penan community leaders and alleged sexual abuse victims during a visit to Baram. The ministry released the report a few days ago.

The report cited eight cases of sexual abuse, mostly against schoolgirls aged below 16.

Most of the victims gave birth after they had been abused.

Speaking after launching the Mitshubishi Triton pick-up truck here, Jabu said he had not seen the report.

"When the report comes over to us, we must study it. We cannot just brush it aside.

"But, you must remember that there are strong elements of negative NGOs that are behind the Penans."

He alleged that Western NGOs had manipulated the Penans in the past, making them concoct stories about Malaysia and Sarawak.

"If the report is fair and constructive we will be in a position to study, but not when it is distorted and manufactured to the advantage of the NGOs, especially those who have no concern for the Penans."

He said if the opposition wanted to make political capital out of it, then it was their business.

Jabu, who is also the chairman of the Cabinet Committee in Charge of Penan Affairs, said the state government would support any action the police took against those involved in the sexual abuse.

State Social Development and Urbanisation Minister Datuk Seri William Mawan Ikom said he had not received the report and could only comment on it after discussing it with his officers.

"However, if a crime has been committed, then it will definitely go through the process of the law.

"We cannot just say things unless we can prove it," he said after handing Hari Raya cakes to police and army personnel.

"These things (sexual abuse) do happen. If the culprits have been identified, let the law take its course."

He acknowledged that schoolgirls in rural areas often had to rely on timber company lorry drivers to get to school.

"At times, these students are forced to spend the night on the road or whatever shelter available, including the timber camps, because of the distance from their village to school."

Parti Rakyat Sarawak president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing has urged the authorities to take immediate steps to arrest those responsible.

"The perpetrators of this hideous crime should not be left free."

Masing said he was stunned and shocked to read the findings of the report.