Defending the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve: A Radical Alternative

Imagining an unconventional strategy to defend the forest reserve as well as open up new political possibilities.

The degazettement of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) has been a front and centre issue for activists in the Klang Valley. It started with the rumbling about the degazettement for the purpose of a ‘mixed development project’ in February of 2020, with the Selangor State Forestry Department giving stakeholders only 30 days to voice their objections. The Movement Control Order (MCO) derailed the degazettement before the State government tried to pull a fast one by calling a public hearing on the matter with only several days notice in late September 2020. Despite late notice and some resistance from state authorities, NGOs, indigenous peoples and even politicians from Selangor’s ruling coalition were able to voice their opposition at the hearing. (For a detailed timeline, see the Greenpeace article) As we speak, the chief minister is still considering the degazettement after the more than 40,000 objections to the development plan.

With the recent flood affecting many across the east coast, primarily due to increasing deforestation, it is absolutely baffling that the Selangor state government would put profits over people in this way. The forest, primarily consisting of peat swamp forest, is home to Orang Asli who have lived there for many generations, unique flora and fauna, and serve as a carbon sink as well as flood deterrence. The defence of this forest is paramount to the livelihoods of its inhabitants and the wellbeing of those of us who live around it. Aside from formal channels of dissent, there are more radical examples of environmental action that can be explored.

The ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, more popularly known as the Zone to Defend, is one such example in France with a number of similarities to the KLNFR. From the blog of ZAD occupiers:

The zad is on 4000 acres of wetlands, fields and forests and 250 people in 80 different collectives live together without the state, occupying the land against the new airport project for the city of Nantes.

It all started with a government plan to build an airport on the site in the 1960s with resistance from the residents of the area beginning to grow. The project would not be revisited until the late 2000s with a company being given the construction contract a few years later. However, awareness-raising and the occupation of empty government buildings by activists in the area had already begun in 2000, with support collectives set up in other French cities and beyond. The activists have since defended the residents from eviction and have even joined them as squatters.

Two major attempts were made to evict the residents and the activist squatters, in 2012 and 2018. Support for the ZAD, grown gradually over decades, are able to call on over 40,000 partake in its defence. The site became a space for activism education, rallies and political meetings, consolidating the importance of the ZAD such that there would be a network on call on when threats arose once more.

In the fall of 2012, during the so-called “Operation Caesar,” more than one thousand troops aided by helicopters and armed vehicles invaded the area. They were met with multiform and determined resistance. While small groups of zadistes built barricades and threw rocks, others ran the communal kitchens. Demos were regularly organized outside of the zone blocked by the police. After several glorious weeks of struggle, the police eventually canceled the operation and the ZAD called for a massive rally to rebuild the facilities destroyed by the cops. - ZAD FOR EVER Blog

In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron attempted again to evict the residents and squatters from the area. In spite of a massive operation that costs 400,000 euros a day (consisting of 2500 gendarmes, armoured vehicles (APCs), bulldozers, rubber bullets, drones, 200 cameras and 11,000 tear gas and stun grenades), the brave defence by hundreds of activists alongside residents resulted in an overall victory. French police did destroy a number of buildings during the operation but in the end, the authorities retreated and called an end to the operation.

The parallel between the Notre-Dame-des-Landes and the KLNFR are not exact. Squatting and building out spaces for occupiers for the KLNFR’s defence would need to be done carefully as to not disrupt the existing environment. Yet, the mass mobilisation of support for the reserve as an integral part of our society and the confrontational mode of direct action can be clearly conceived of given the ZAD examples and other around the world. (See No-TAV in Italy) There are noteworthy local examples like that of the struggle by indigenous activists against the dam construction in Baram, Sarawak, and the blockades set up by Orang Asli against loggers and durian farmers. These valiant examples of environmental struggle have succeeded but there are many others that do not, with the state often siding with capitalist interests. Without a larger and more coordinated movement behind the protection of environmental spaces, the threat of their destruction will resurface again and again, as in the ZAD case. The willingness to fight the state to maintain the KLNFR directly may be the most effective way of pushing back the threat.

*For a fuller history and explanation of the ZAD cause, see https://zadforever.blog/about/ and https://zadforever.blog/2017/01/20/the-zad-an-autonomous-zone-in-the-heart-of-france/

*For a complete timeline of the most recent ZAD occupiers’ clash with French police in 2018, visit their website, https://zadforever.blog/2018/04/24/the-revenge-against-the-commons/

*A touching short video on the cause of the ZAD: