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Malaysia demolishes dozens of sea nomads' homes

Activists have condemned the action against the indigenous Bajau Laut, a community of mostly stateless sea-dwelling nomads
In this picture taken from Bandar Seri Begawan boats cruise on the river near Kampong Ayer floating village in Brunei on the Borneo island on Jan. 13.

In this picture taken from Bandar Seri Begawan boats cruise on the river near Kampong Ayer floating village in Brunei on the Borneo island on Jan. 13. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 08, 2024 05:20 AM GMT
Updated: June 08, 2024 05:29 AM GMT

Malaysian security forces have destroyed nearly 140 houses belonging to an indigenous sea-dwelling community off Borneo island's Sabah state in a major anti-crime crackdown, a local government ministry said on June 7.

Sabah's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment said that "138 unauthorized settlements" were demolished between June 4 and June 6.

The operation was carried out due to security issues and cross-border criminal activities, the ministry said in a statement, adding "sovereignty of the nation's laws must be upheld."

The area houses mainly the indigenous Bajau Laut, a community of mostly stateless sea-dwelling nomads who typically live along the coasts in stilt houses and huts.

Activists have condemned the action against the Bajau Laut.

"Does this situation create a more secure environment? How much of the nation's money has been stolen by the Bajau Laut for them to be treated like animals?" Mukmin Nantang, the founder of activist group Borneo Komrad, posted on Facebook in Malay on June 6.

A local rights NGO, Pusat KOMAS said that the Bajau Laut "face systemic discrimination," adding, "their forced removal raises serious questions about the equitable treatment of ethnic minorities in Malaysia."

Videos spreading online showed a hut on fire and destroyed stilt houses on the water. AFP was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage.

Citing police sources, the ministry alleged that some homeowners had burned their houses to gain sympathy and to go viral online.

In early May, the sea nomads were served with notices to vacate on grounds they had built unauthorized homes within the protected Tun Sakaran Marine Park, the ministry said.

The demolition of the houses was also aimed at protecting the park against illegal fishing, farming and erecting of structures without permission, it said

The Bajau Laut usually build their homes on stilts on top of coral reefs in the rich marine biodiversity park famous for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Sabah is the second largest of Malaysia's 13 states, sharing a land border with Indonesia and sea borders with Brunei and the Philippines.

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