Malaysia’s Datuk Keramat Holdings has signed an agreement with a consortium of Chinese companies, led by XJ Corporation, to construct the Bakun hydroelectric power project in Borneo. In a prepared statement, Datuk Keramat has said the memorandum of understanding included a private Malaysian company, Millen-nium Century, and the Chinese consortium. The companies plan to submit a proposal within the next six months to the Malaysian government to develop the dam, Datuk Keramat said.

Malaysia shelved the US$3.9B Bakun dam project in Sarawk state in October 1997 after the onset of the Asian economic crisis. In 1999 the government asked privatised power utility Tenaga Nasional to revive parts of the project by taking over the project from Ekran, the former developer of the dam.

Non government organisations opposed to the dam project claim the forced relocation of 10,000 native people is destroying their culture, and urged that at least some be allowed home.

Kua Kia Soong, a representative of the Coalition of Concerned NGOs on Bakun asked why 10,000 indigenous people should be moved from their homes when the diversion tunnel or the new design for the dam is not ready. ‘It is equivalent to ethnocide,’ he said.

The affected people are mainly from the Ukit, Kayan, Kenyah, Kajang and Penan tribes. Soong, a member of a fact-finding mission to a resettlement scheme in the eastern state of Sarawak, said the people there have lost interest in traditional activities. He also criticised the fact that the resettlement area has a pre-school building but no teachers, and there is not enough land to farm. He believes that since the size of the dam has been scaled down due to the Asian economic crisis, those who want to move back to their land should be allowed to do so.