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'People power works': Malaysian peat forest regazetted after activist pressure

Legal protection for the Kuala Langat north forest reserve in Selangor is to be reinstated following a public outcry over a planned property development.

In a rare victory for environmental activism in Southeast Asia, a peat forest in Malaysia has been spared the bulldozers after a public outcry forced legislators to reconsider its fate.

A decision to degazette more than half of the Kuala Langat Utara Forest Reserve (KLNFR) in Selangor to turn it into a property development is to be voided, the state’s chief minister Amirudin Shari said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The state government will stop the proposed development plan for the area and cancel the transfer of the land to the [developer] company [Gabungan Indah Sdn Bhd],” Shari told reporters.

The development of the 958-hectare peat swamp forest has been widely opposed, by indigenous groups, environmental activists and community groups, and also Malaysia’s national political coalition, which called the withdrawal of the forest’s legal protection “irresponsible”.

Shaq Koyok, an artist and indigenous activist for the Temuan people, said the decision to preserve the forest’s legal protection was “a win for democracy” and showed that people power works. “It gives us activists and indigenous people hope,” he said.

The decision to revoke the degazettement was made partly because of political sensitivity over coming elections, Koyok said. “It would be political suicide if they [the state government] continued down the path [of degazetting the forest reserve],” he said.

The Selangor government had claimed that the KLNFR, which sits on deep, carbon-rich peat soil, was fire-prone and had “no tall trees remaining”, a claim that a collective of green groups called out as false.

The government said on Wednesday that 579 ha of land that had been allocated as replacement green areas for the degazetted land would remain designated as permanent forest reserves.

Development of KLNFR would have resulted in in the release of 3.2 million tonnes of carbon, according to Malaysian Environmental NGOs (MENGO), and threatened a rare habitat for endangered species such as the Malayan sun bear. The Temuan people have lived in and around the forest since the 1800s.

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