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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 23:06 GMT
Malaysia hits out at palm oil 'smears'
By Ben Sutherland
BBC World Service, Sarawak

Campaigners fear orangutans could become extinct
The chief minister of Malaysia's biggest state has accused a number of organisations of conducting "smear campaigns" about logging within the state's tropical rainforest.

Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud told the International Media and Environment Summit (Imes) in Sarawak that allegations the state was clearing protected areas to create space for palm oil trees were being put about by non-palm-oil producing nations.

He dismissed claims by environmental group Friends of the Earth that palm oil tree planting was a threat to orangutans as "not correct, and misleading".

He said the palm oil plantations were mainly grown on land that had already been cultivated or were in "secondary jungle".

Mr Mahmud added that environmental impact studies were also carried out before any oil palm trees were planted.

'Armchair journalists'

Concerns have been raised over Sarawak's rainforest because of its immense environmental importance.

While around 10% of the state's land mass is totally protected forest, it still produces between nine and 10 million cubic metres of logs a year.

We are not overly concerned at these unsubstantiated allegations
Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak's chief minister
But Mr Mahmud said that Sarawak's government had been treated "quite unfairly" by some environmental groups, and accused them of conducting "smear campaigns" over a long period of time.

"These issues continue to crop up," he said. "We are not overly concerned at these unsubstantiated allegations."

Mr Mahmud said that in one case the government was alleged to have ordered a manhunt of a protestor in the jungle via helicopter.

He said this would have been impossible because the rainforest canopy was too dense.

The chief minister also hit out at media coverage, including the BBC, saying that in the case of the orangutans, "propaganda" was being put about by "armchair journalists" who had never visited the state.

Orangutans are of particular concern as their numbers are estimated to be only 2,000 in Sarawak.

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