Lembaga Amanah Kebajikan Negeri Sarawak (LAKMNS) chairman Tan Sri Datuk Amar Bujang Nor evaded the press yesterday on the issue surrounding the desecration of 44 graves at Jalan Keretapi here.
“I can’t comment or I will be misunderstood again,” was one of the few words he said as he hurried off with members of the media hot on his heels.
Judging from the media frenzy which took place after an event at a hotel here yesterday, there was no second guessing that the Muslim cemetery issue was the hottest topic in recent weeks so far.
After an unsuccessful attempt to get a word on the issue from Bujang, members of the media turned to Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Dato Sri Awang Tengah Ali Hassan — the guest of honour for the said event — for answers.
It was put to Tengah that if there was indeed a misunderstanding, then Bujang Nor should communicate and explain to the people what was being misunderstood instead of being evasive.
Tengah, however, sidestepped the statement and instead tried to calm the situation down by assuring that LAKMNS, the gravesite owner, was trying its best to resolve the issue.
“I understand that they had a dialogue yesterday. All this is due to a misunderstanding although I do not know exactly what had transpired,” he said, adding that the main point of it all was to solve the problem amicably.
The incident, which took place on Aug 12, saw an official from the religious department beaten up over what was described as ‘unlawful exhumation’ of 44 graves by a local contractor here.
The incident sparked off fury among the family members of those buried at the cemetery, said to date back to the James Brooke era.
On Aug 17, Kuching Division Land and Survey Superintendent Abdullah Julaihi said in a press statement that no approval had been granted for the development of the land now occupied by the cemetery.
He said that the affected land was a private property registered to ‘Mesjid Besar (Kuching) Charitable Trust Board’.
“However, should the land owner wish to develop or redevelop the land, prior approval must be obtained from the State Planning Authority.
“I wish to assure all that no proposal for development has been received nor approval given to the land owner for any development on the said land,” he said.
On Aug 15, LAKMNS in a statement sought to clarify that the land where the cemetery is presently located is no longer classified under ‘tanah wakaf’.
It nonetheless expressed its “profound regret” and issued an apology to the descendents over the debacle surrounding the issue.
Apart from expressing its apology, LAKMNS also sought to clarify certain issues regarding the relocation of the cemetery from its present location to the Semariang Muslim cemetery.
The statement mentioned that the cemetery had, in fact, not been used for burial since Aug 27, 1985 and that the land was now wholly owned by LAKMNS and no longer ‘tanah wakaf’.
LAKMNS further claimed to have referred the proposed relocation to the relevant government agencies and contacted all the descendants regarding the matter since 2006, apart from appointing a contractor and consultants to discuss the issue with the affected families on its behalf.
It also stated that the relocation works were conducted in accordance with Islamic law and had been referred to the State Mufti officer and approved by the state government, with LAKMNS bearing the full cost of the project.
Meanwhile, a dialogue session was held between the newly formed protem committee of the Jalan Keretapi Muslim Cemetery and LAKMNS on Aug 18.
The committee was said to have handed over a seven-point memorandum to LAKMNS during the dialogue session.
The seven-point memorandum was said to contain, among others, a request for compensation of RM500,000 each for the 44 graves desecrated, the status of the cemetery to remain as such and the protem committee to be given the mandate to arrange for and supervise any activity in regards to the cemetery.
The memorandum also sought explanation from those responsible for the exhumation of the graves.