Police Commissioner warns groups not to interfere or instigate disputing smallholders
State Police Commissioner Datuk Noor Rashid Ibrahim has issued a stern warning to individuals taking advantage of the RM40 million land- grab issue at Kampung Tingkayu in Kunak, saying the matter should be left to the relevant authorities to probe. “Let the relevant authorities carry out investigations into the matter. We will not hesitate to take action against those who interfere,” he said. Speaking to reporters during a press conference yesterday at the Sabah Police Headquarters here, Noor Rashid said they are aware that certain groups are taking advantage of the land-grab issue between 171 smallholders and Syarikat Kerjasama Perkembangan Tanah Tingkayu Berhad. “These groups who have personal, political or organisational interests are manipulating the issue and were probably giving wrong advice to smallholders who are disputing the directive by the Land and Survey Department to award the land at Kampung Tingkayu to a company. They are doing it for their own gain,” he explained. Noor Rashid stressed that some of the smallholders or villagers do not even know what is happening, and he urged these groups who are giving advice to do it according to the law. Currently, the Police are gathering more evidence pertaining to the so-called instigators, before proceeding with further action, including arrests, he said. Giving a chronology of events, Noor Rashid had described the issue as a “civil matter”. “It was brought to the High Court in Tawau and on March 18 it was ruled that land inquiries held by the Assistant Collector of Land Revenue and the Deputy Director of the Land and Survey Department asking villagers to vacate the land’ were valid,” he said. On Nov 17, 2003, the first inquiry was held and the second one was done three years later on April 19. Both sessions had directed the smallholders to vacate the 1,324- hectare land as it belonged to the company. He said although the dispute had been referred to the court, Police had to maintain public order and investigate reports that had been lodged by the smallholders. A total of 38 police reports were lodged and 32 investigation papers, including 11 on alleged misconduct of police officers, had been opened. The other reports are on various offences under the Penal Code including criminal intimidation, theft and injury. Despite efforts by a Police Task Force to resolve the matter, there have been hiccups as complainants and witnesses have failed to show up for appointments. “We need to talk to them and we even made it easy for the complainants. We arranged to interview them in Kunak and Tawau and for those who did not want to go to police stations, we agreed to speak with them at hotels. “When our officers arrived to see them, they did not show up. Some of them even switched off their phones. Others have given us incomplete addresses. This has been hampering our efforts to get information that we need,” he said. Noor Rashid also said if everything fails, Police may have to get a court order to force the complainants and witnesses to turn up for interviews as provided for under Section 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “I would like to stress here that we want to conduct a fair investigation and this includes verifying reports of misconduct among Police officers. We will not hesitate to take action against officers who are found guilty. “But, we cannot perform well without the cooperation of all parties. We need the complainants and witnesses to come forward and help us in our investigations,” Noor Rashid stressed. In April, it was reported that a senior law enforcement officer and Police officers in Kunak were being investigated by the Sabah Anti- Corruption Agency for allegedly offering “protection services” to a company which allegedly seized oil palm plantations belonging to smallholders. And in exchange for their “services,” the company had reportedly given the officers kickbacks and benefits, including offering its company shares. The smallholders are also claiming that they were intimidated and threatened by the company to leave the land. On Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok took a serious view of the matter and had instructed the Public Complaints Bureau to investigate the allegations. Dompok had also instructed the Public Complaints Bureau to investigate allegations of power abuse by senior Police officers in the land-grab issue. Two major players, one is believed to be a senior Sabah politician and the other a high-ranking official in the Police Force, were among several called in by the ACA to facilitate investigations. Sabah ACA Director, Latifah Md Yatim, said they are gathering information pertaining to the case and that the media will be updated on latest developments.