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Swiss ambassador heading for Borneo to track missing activist

Bruno Manser made many enemies when he took up the cudgels for Borneo's Penan tribe

(Keystone Archive)

A top Swiss official is preparing to head to Borneo to try to track down a missing environmental activist, Bruno Manser. Nothing has been heard from Manser since he disappeared in the Malaysian province of Sarawak in May last year.

The Swiss ambassador to Malaysia, Rudolf Staub, is due to hold talks with officials in charge of Manser's case in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, in an attempt to establish the whereabouts of the Basel activist.

"We are trying very intensively to find Manser," Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman, Daniela Stoffel, told swissinfo. "Ambassador Staub will stress the importance that Switzerland attaches to the search."

Manser spent six years living with Borneo's Penan tribe and publicising their grievances. The Penans are one of the few remaining nomadic forest peoples, and campaigners say their way of life is threatened by logging.

Manser fell foul of the Malaysian authorities, who declared him "persona non grata" 11 years ago. In July last year, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, described the Swiss activist as a "fanatic" with a hidden agenda.

He was arrested and deported by the Malaysian authorities in spring 1999, and threatened with a fine and imprisonment if he returned.

He has also long been a thorn in the side of the timber industry.

Stoffel said that one of Ambassador Staub's tasks would be to evaluate Malaysia's efforts to locate Manser. Malaysian police deny there is any evidence he was in the country.

But the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) insists that he crossed into Sarawak state from Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, before disappearing. "We are resigned," said BMF secretary, John Kuenzli. "If Bruno Manser were still alive, he would have been found."



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