Swiss Campaigner for Rain Forests Declared Dead, Fund Says
GENEVA Missing rain forest crusader Bruno Manser was declared dead by a Swiss court Thursday, five years after he vanished in the Borneo jungle of Malaysia on his way to the Penan people he sought to protect, his organization said.
The Basel civil court's decision came after no credible indication of Manser's survival had been received by a Dec. 31, 2004, deadline set by Swiss officials, the Bruno Manser Fund said.
"Manser's last sign of life was a letter dated May 23, 2000, and written to his girlfriend from a place close to the village of Bario in the vicinity of the border between Sarawak (Malaysia) and Kalimantan (Indonesia)," said a statement by the fund, which Manser founded in Basel.
It said he was on his way to Adang River to meet up with Penan nomads, one of the last peoples on earth living exclusively from hunting and gathering.
The court's decision was retroactive to May 25, 2000, two days after he disappeared, the organization said. The court hearing was behind closed doors.
Used to long periods without contact, Manser's family waited six months before reporting him missing in November 2000. Since then, numerous searches failed to find any sign of him.
Manser, who would be 50 if still alive, stayed with the Penan for six years starting in 1984 to study their culture.
"During his stay in Malaysia, Manser was witness to the ruthless clearing of Borneo's primeval forests by local logging companies," the fund said. "He helped the Penan organize civil resistance."
Malaysian officials and lumber companies reject accusations that logging is damaging the environment, and say the industry supports 100,000 families.
Manser campaigned for the Penan in the 1990s in Japan, Europe and at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
A year before he disappeared, Manser defied a ban on his entering Malaysia, went back into Sarawak clandestinely and landed his motorized paraglider at a construction site near the residence of the state's chief minister. He was deported.
Fund representatives said they didn't know what happened to Manser, but couldn't imagine that he could have gone more than a few months without contacting his family if he were alive.
In one search, trackers took the same route as Manser to the mountain of Batu Lawi, following the trail where he had cut away branches and undergrowth. But from the point where the trail ended, they were unable to find any trace of him.
Manser had said he wanted to climb Batu Lawi, leading friends to fear he had had an accident. The searchers combed the area but were also unable to find any clue.
Fund representatives have said it was possible but unlikely that Manser had become lost or had an accident and, unable to reach help, had died. But they said he could hunt with a blowgun and that his survival skills were good.
Some Malaysians initially speculated that he staged his disappearance and was being hidden by Penan friends.
The Penan complain that widespread logging has devastated their traditional lifestyle. The Malaysian government wants to bring them into the mainstream, offering them homes with running water, schools and work.
About 9,000 live in small settlements in the mountains of northeastern Sarawak, Malaysia's largest section of Borneo, which it shares with Indonesia.
They hunt wild pigs and deer with spears and blowguns, and pick wild fruit. Some 300 live still more primitively, keeping on the move as forest nomads.
Source: Associated Press