By Beh Lih Yi
JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Malaysian opposition politician who had campaigned for indigenous land rights was shot dead on Tuesday.
Bill Kayong was gunned down in his pickup truck when he stopped at a traffic light in the city of Miri, in the eastern state of Sarawak, according to his party, the opposition People’s Justice Party.
The motive for the killing was not immediately clear.
Kayong, who is a Dayak, one of the many indigenous tribes in Sarawak, had fought for native people and their land rights, including when he stood as an opposition candidate in the Sarawak state elections last month.
“He has always campaigned on issues that are close to the heart of the Sarawak people, including the issue of native customary rights, which he constantly raised during the state elections,” his party adviser Anwar Ibrahim and president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a joint statement.
Kayong lost in the May 7 state election, in which the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition scored a landslide victory.
Indigenous land rights have been a contentious issue in Sarawak, part of the vast island of Borneo which is shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Activists have long blamed the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations, rampant logging and a wave of dam-building for causing environmental damage and displacing indigenous people.
Tribespeople have staged protests in the past, and have set up road blockades in a bid to stop some mega-projects.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)