Putrajaya, Malaysia (AFP) March 17, 2010
Some 500 indigenous Malaysians on Wednesday mounted an unprecedented protest over a government bill they say will deprive them of land.
Activists for the Orang Asli, the term for the native tribes in peninsular Malaysia, say the legislation expected to be tabled this July will give them only 50,000 hectares (123,550 acres) of the 129,000 they claim.
"Who are you to give the land when it is already the Orang Asli's," said Colin Nicholas, coordinator for the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, addressing the government.
Several protesters carried multicoloured placards saying "Don't take away our rights" and "We are willing to bathe in blood" as leaders handed over a memorandum to rural and regional development minister Shafie Apdal.
Some of the demonstrators, who gathered outside the prime minister's office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, were dressed in loincloths and colourful headgear made of flowers, tree bark and coconut leaves.
"We open our ears to whatever grouses the public, in particular the Orang Asli, have. If anyone says we are depriving them, we are neglecting them, that's not true," Shafie told reporters.
Activists want Orang Asli claims to their customary land recognised, saying their continual occupation and economic activities establish their ownership.
Nicholas said the planned amendment to the Aboriginal People's Act would give each family between two and six acres of land.
"Once they get this plot of land, they will lose (their rights to) other plots of land," he said.
Shafie confirmed the proposed amendment would give each each family two to six acres but said the terms were not final.
"This is not finalised so that's why we need their views. We are willing to listen," he said.
The Orang Asli make up less than one percent of Malaysia's 28 million population and are generally disadvantaged in terms of income, health, education and living standards.
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