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Malaysia revises plan to build Borneo dams: official

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Malaysian minister on Borneo island said his state will not push ahead with building 12 controversial dams amid anger among local tribes and environmentalists over the plans.

The plans for the dams in Sarawak state have sparked widespread criticism they would further destroy remote jungle and wildlife and displace locals. The Bakun dam is already finished and work on at least one other dam has begun.

James Masing, state minister of land development in Sarawak, said the resource-rich, poorly developed state would only need four, and not 12, dams to cater to its energy demands, even though it aimed to attract more industries.

"It is not a firm plan to build 12 dams. I don't think we will need that. We will only need four of them," Masing told AFP in an interview.

The government has mooted plans for the dams as part of an industrial development drive to boost the state's backward economy. But activists and locals have staged blockades and protests over the past years.

"I'm pleased that this type of thing takes place. But not all that we do is correct, and this shows we need to refine our plans and think again," he said.

The four dams -- Bakun, Murum, Baleh and Baram -- are already expected to put out nearly 6,000 megawatts of power, six times what Sarawak currently uses. Bakun came online in 2011, and Murum is under construction.

All of them are deep in Sarawak's interior. Thousands of people from several tribes were uprooted by the Bakun dam, whose growing reservoir has left huge swathes of jungle deep underwater.

The Swiss-based jungle-protection group Bruno Manser Fund says about 90 percent of Sarawak's rainforests have been damaged as the state government has opened up virgin forest to loggers and palm-oil plantations.

Critics also allege chief minister Taib Mahmud, who has ruled Sarawak since 1981, has enriched himself and his family through corrupt timber and other dealings. Taib has dismissed the corruption allegations.

Critics of Taib accuse the federal government of failing to act against him because his tight control of Sarawak has kept it a vital ruling coalition stronghold.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130208/malaysia-revises-plan-build-borneo-dams-official