Friday, September 4, 2009

Kampung Buah Pala: Demolition starts; 18 arrested

Himanshu Bhatt and Bernard Cheah, The Sun Daily

Demolition work started on four houses in Kampung Buah Pala today -- three days past the deadline to move out -- amid a violent skirmish between police and village supporters that ended with 18 arrests.

One of the Kampung Buah Pala residents tearing the
DAP flag in anger when contractors move in today to
demolish the houses in the village.

Among those arrested were lawyer Darshan Singh, former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ) councillor A Thiruvenggadam, and several MIC youth members.

Only five – three women and two men – were villagers.

It is learnt they had started a hunger strike while at the George Town district police headquarters in Pattani Road here.

All 18 were released on police bail about 8.30pm tonight.

Things came to a head at about 12.30pm today when police made a V-shape formation to penetrate the crowd of mainly Hindraf and MIC members, who were shouting slogans, in order to break one of the houses.

“All those arrested but who were not villagers were there in a spirit of solidarity with the residents, which is alright,” George Town OCPD Azam Abd Hamid said later.

“But what they did in obstructing (the court bailiff and police) was against the law.”

Police arresting the villagers at
Kampung Buah Pala.

Azam said most were arrested for obstructing police in discharging their duty while some would be charged for causing a riot.

He said they would be released on bail after their statements were recorded.

Two policemen were injured in the skirmish. Four police reports were lodged by various individuals, including one by developer Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd on an alleged attack on its director Gary Ho.

Azam said five households had agreed to vacate and let Nusmetro demolish their houses. The remaining families asked for more time, and were given a week.

The day began on an ominous note at about 7.30am when several police trucks, including a Black Maria, were seen parked outside the village.

Residents were supported by a crowd of Hindraf and MIC youth members, lead by the party’s youth chief T Mohan.

The physical confrontation between the police and the supporters came as a surprise as the residents’ committee members were seen having negotiations with Nusmetro’s Ho and executive director Thomas Chan.

It is understood that Nusmetro wanted to demolish three vacant houses.

After lengthy discussions in the mobile police beat base, five members of the demolition team were allowed to enter the village, to break down the first house under the watch of the police, a court bailiff and the residents committee, at about 10am.

There were several tense situations between reporters and supporters who tried to block them, and between MIC members and youngsters in the demolition team.

After breaking three houses, Ho reached a compromise with residents’ association secretary J. Steven to break the store room of his house.

The crisis has its roots in the state government approving the village land for sale to the Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Pulau Pinang for a private commercial development project in 2004.

The residents, descendants of indentured labourers brought in during the British colonial period, have argued that the land transaction was fraudulent, and that their forefathers were beneficiaries of a housing trust under the Brown Estate, but have lost repeatedly in the courts.

A distraught association chairman M. Sugumaran: “We have no avenue already. The state government is not with us. The courts are not with us. How are we going to fight?” he said.