No evidence that anti-logging Borneo tribesman was murdered, police

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) 4-08

An anti-logging tribesman found dead on Borneo island was probably not murdered, but the investigation will not be formally closed to avoid angering activists who suspect foul play, police said.

Kelesau Naan, who spearheaded the Penan tribe’s campaign against loggers near Long Kerong village in Malaysia’s eastern Sarawak state, vanished in October while on a solo hunting trip. His skeletal remains were discovered near a river in December.

Villagers said some of his bones were broken, prompting them to fear he was assaulted.

District police chief Jonathan Jalin said the case has been classified as “sudden death” after authorities recently exhumed Naan’s remains, which were buried near his village.

“From the pathologist’s report, there is nothing to indicate he was murdered,” Jalin told The Associated Press. “At the moment, there are no leads.”

International human rights groups have urged a thorough probe into the 70-year-old’s death, warning that it could have stemmed from his defiance of the timber industry.

While there was no evidence to support that, the case would remain open because of the widespread attention it has attracted, Jalin said.

Naan was an initiator and key witness in an unresolved Penan land rights court case. Some Penan villagers have long protested against logging companies, which they say encroach on their ancestral land and hurt their way of life.

But the Penans’ claims to state-owned land is disputed because there is no clear law granting the rights of Malaysia’s Indigenous people to the land they have lived on for generations.