By: SHAILA KOSHY (koshy@thestar.com.my)

KUALA LUMPUR: Orang asli claims of encroachment into native land should move faster now that 70 lawyers have agreed to act pro bono.

“We are preparing a database which will be used to farm out cases and other disputes to these volunteers,” said Bar Council member Steven Thiru when contacted.

On Dec 1, The Star had reported that more and more cases of encroachment into orang asli lands were coming to light but the council’s Legal Aid Centre did not have enough lawyers to act for them.

Thiru, who is also the deputy chair of the council’s Committee on Orang Asli Rights (COAR), said the lawyers volunteered their services for free after a workshop on Dec 4.

“At the moment there are about 10 cases in Peninsular Malaysia and we are in the process of organising representation for those affected.

“COAR will be sending out a notice to ask members handling orang asli cases to notify us so we can offer assistance,” said Thiru, adding that most cases were of encroachment, either to appropriate native land or the produce on it.

“A major problem for us is to determine who is the trespasser; in many cases, they are independent contractors of state authorities but it is not easy to pin them down.”

On the fund launched on Dec 4 to defray part of the volunteers’ costs, he said a council member had donated RM5,000.

“In our next term (2011/2012), we intend to approach the Bar for contributions,” he said.

The orang asli are expected to come up with the remainder of the money, depending on what they can afford, said Thiru.

“COAR takes the view they must take ownership of their cases and contributing is one way of doing this.”

He said COAR would engage with the orang asli and visit their settlements, with the help of Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas.

When contacted, Dr Nicholas, who is also a COAR member, said while 10 cases had been filed, there were between 50 and 60 more such cases.

via 70 lawyers to act for orang asli.

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