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Cablegate: Heart of Borneo: Sarawak Views

VZCZCXRO1254
RR RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB
DE RUEHKL #1957/01 2900922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170922Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7799
INFO RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KUALA LUMPUR 001957

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

OES FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY MCMURRAY
INTERIOR FOR FWS/INTERNATIONAL AND NPS/INTERNATIONAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO MY BX ID
SUBJECT: HEART OF BORNEO: SARAWAK VIEWS

REF: A. KUALA LUMPUR 1835

B. BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 497

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION

1. (SBU) Residents of the Malaysian State of Sarawak are
demonstrating increasing support for environmental
conservation efforts, but have only a limited awareness of
the proposed Heart of Borneo initiative aimed at integrating
and enhancing the conservation efforts of Malaysia, Indonesia
and Brunei. In addition to budgetary concerns, some
Sarwakians doubted the state government,s commitment to
environmental protection, given the economic importance of
the oil and gas, timber, and oil palm industries.
Environmental activists that econoff met with maintained that
concrete goals and projects, decided in a transparent manner,
must be part of the HOB project from the outset to ensure
success. They also noted the critical role of Sarawak,s
chief minister. The Ambassador is scheduled to meet the
Chief Minister to discuss HOB at the end of November. End
summary.

2. (SBU) During a visit to the state of Sarawak, in
northwestern Borneo, October 11-13, econoff met with
representatives of several environment-related organizations
to gauge the general environmental awareness of Sarawak
residents, and to query specifically about the groups,
interest in, and support for, the proposed Heart of Borneo
(HOB) conservation initiative (see reftels). Residents of
Sarawak increasingly support conservation efforts, though
several interlocutors noted that the state government,s
tight budget was currently hampering its ability to manage
existing parks and forest reserves. Most interlocutors
professed limited knowledge of the relatively new Heart of
Borneo initiative, but they had uniform praise for the
project,s professed goal of integrating and enhancing forest
conservation efforts among the governments of Borneo, in the
region encompassing their common borders.

Malaysian Nature Society
------------------------

3. (U) Representatives from the Sarawak branch of the
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) told econoff that they have
seen slow but steady progress on environmental awareness
among residents of Sarawak. They noted in particular the
very positive public reaction to a weekly column on
environmental topics, written by MNS volunteers, in one of
East Malaysia,s leading daily newspapers, "The Borneo Post".
While local government leaders and bureaucrats are also
gradually becoming aware of the benefits of environmental
protection, including through the promotion of eco-tourism,
the MNS reps lamented that a general lack of coordination and
communication among different government agencies tended to
limit the government,s ability to act effectively.

4. (SBU) Although only generally aware of the proposed Heart
of Borneo (HOB) project, the MNS reps told econoff that the
project will be successful in Sarawak only if the highest
levels of the Sarawak government (i.e., the Chief Minister
and his staff) are openly and strongly supportive; otherwise
the fragmented government bureaucracy could prove an
impediment. They also suggested that the project be launched
with specific, detailed goals; a grand announcement that
merely initiated enhanced dialogue among the three countries
(Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia) might not overcome the
tendency for inertia to set in once the spotlight fades.

5. (SBU) The MNS reps also pointed out that the close links
between HOB and the WWF could be problematic, given the
expulsion of the WWF from Sarawak in the early 1990s over its
strong criticism of government resettlement policy for the
semi-nomadic Palan tribe. (One of the reps cynically mused
that WWF was pushing HOB in part to regain a significant
foothold in Sarawak.) Ineffective implementation of the state
government,s issuance of research permits could also prove
an impediment to the HOB's success; MNS said overly stringent
government officials had limited such permits, at odds with
state legislation that was intended to encourage such
research.

Wildlife Conservation Society
-----------------------------

6. (SBU) Melvin Gumal of the Malaysian branch of the Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS) told econoff that environmental
awareness in Sarawak has increased significantly in recent
years. He nevertheless pointed out that WCS has found that

KUALA LUMP 00001957 002 OF 003


it operates more effectively by limiting publicity of its
activities, rather than emphasizing environmental problems
and the inability and/or unwillingness of local governments
to resolve them. He contrasted WCS, continued strong
presence in Sarawak over the years with the WWF and its
difficulties in staying active and relative in the state.

7. (SBU) Like the MNS reps, Gumal suggested that the HOB,s
success will hinge on the pursuit of specific projects,
rather than raising environmental awareness. He pointed out
that other smaller-scale environmental initiatives in Sarawak
could use additional funding, and would perhaps seek
inclusion under the broader HOB project, where feasible.
Gumal also expressed concern about the ability of the Sarawak
Forestry Corporation (which manages the state,s parks and
reserves) to effectively implement HOB, given a sharp cut in
its funding which has left it with half the staff that it had
just a few years ago. MNS reps confirmed to econoff that the
SFC was severely understaffed and unable to effectively
manage the areas under its authority.

World Wildlife Fund -- Sarawak
------------------------------

8. (SBU) Dato, Seri Safri Awang Zaidell, who formerly was
the Deputy State Secretary in the Sarawak government, but now
represents a newly constituted WWF in Sarawak, was optimistic
about the Sarawak government,s commitment to the success of
the HOB project. He acknowledged to econoff the WWF,s past
difficulties in Sarawak, but claimed the state government
would be able to work effectively with WWF on HOB. Safri
implied that his fairly close ties to the upper reaches of
state government were instrumental in resurrecting the WWF in
Sarawak, and would ensure that the HOB be viewed positively
within the government.

Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia
-----------------------------------

9. (SBU) Econoff discussed a variety of environment-related
issues with associates of the Borneo Resources Institute
Malaysia (BRIMAS) in the northern Sarawak city of Miri, near
Brunei. One area of particular concern to BRIMAS is the
effect of government policies, both environmental and
non-environmental, on the welfare of Sarawak,s indigenous
population. Although the BRIMAS reps indicated that Sarawak
has relatively strong environmental protection laws, some
dating to the 1930s, poor enforcement was a constant problem.
Harrison Ngau Laing, a lawyer who specializes in land title
law, told econoff that tight state budgets leave government
surveyors unable to delineate boundaries in much of Sarawak.
At the same time, the government looks unfavorably on private
sector land surveys to make up for government deficiencies.
As a result, the government issues concessions to timber and
oil palm companies for land that is frequently within the
boundaries claimed as "native customary land" by indigenous
people.

10. (SBU) Although BRIMAS is disposed favorably to the HOB,
the reps noted concern that the needs of any indigenous
people living within the HOB boundaries be considered as
decisions are made. Like WCS and MNS, BRIMAS noted the
importance of imposing strict conditions on funding for the
HOB, and the need for a transparent process as well. Their
overriding concern is that, based on their past experience,
commercial interests tend to receive more favorable treatment
from the state government than indigenous people or
environmental issues.

Sarawak Timber Association
--------------------------

11. (SBU) Lee Hua Seng, CEO of the Sarawak Timber Association
(STA), told econoff that his member companies, in particular
the "Big Six" firms that dominate the state,s timber
industry, would be responsible partners on HOB. He noted
that STA had previously worked effectively with NGOs on other
conservation efforts. Lee mentioned the increasing
importance of Forestry Stewardship Council certification of
timber exports, which more importing countries, in particular
the EU member states, now require of timber firms. Lee said
Sarawak,s mandatory chain of custody procedures for logs and
timber worked well, but noted that the EU continues to be
concerned about transshipment of illicit Indonesia timber
through Sarawak.

Comment
-------

KUALA LUMP 00001957 003 OF 003

12. (SBU) Our interlocutors, guarded praise for the HOB
initiative stemmed primarily from a lack of information about
the project. There was widespread agreement that the
initiative,s success will require a more transparent process
than has been the case in previous environmental projects
involving the state government. Sarawak,s support for the
HOB initiative will be on the agenda for the Ambassador,s
upcoming visit to Sarawak in late November, including a
meeting with the state,s Chief Minister, whose active
support will be crucial for the initiative,s success.
SHEAR

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