No suspects in mysterious death of Malaysian tribesman who fought logging, police say

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) 2-08

Police said in early Febuary they still have no suspects in the death of a Malaysian tribal chieftain in Borneo’s jungles, but did not rule out the possibility that he was murdered for defying the timber industry.

International human rights activists have demanded an investigation into the death of 70-year-old Kelesau Naan, who disappeared in late October of 2007 while alone on a hunting trip near the remote village of Long Kerong in Malaysia’s eastern Sarawak state.

Police inspector Sumarno Lamundi said officials have not ruled out the possibility Naan was killed because he spearheaded anti-logging efforts by his Penan tribal community.

“We are still investigating what happened, but there are no suspects so far,” Lamundi said. “Everything is still under consideration. We have not rejected any possibility.”

Villagers found Naan’s skeletal remains and his belongings near a river in December. They said some of his bones were broken, suggesting he had been assaulted.

Lamundi refused to elaborate on whether authorities have found any clear evidence of murder or how long the investigation is expected to take.

Local media have speculated Naan might have died in an accident.

Naan had been on the forefront of the Penans’ fight against the timber trade, which they accuse of destroying their ancestral lands and snatching their customary rights over forests. State government authorities and timber companies reject the claims.

Naan’s nephew, Micheal Ipa, said in January that some Penans “believe he has been killed by people involved in logging.”

The Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has voiced “deep concern” about Naan’s death, saying it “might be the result of his human rights activities in favor of indigenous issues.”

Naan was an initiator and key witness in an unresolved Penan land rights court case. His death came ahead of what some villagers believe are plans by timber companies to resume logging, which has stalled in recent years in areas surrounding Long Kerong, the village that Naan led.