As an environmental activist, Kayong had long been involved in defending the locals against land encroachment by plantation companies.

Peter Kallang, chairperson of Save Rivers, said the matter did not come as a surprise as the case in which Kayong was involved in was replete with incidents.

He claimed that a village headman was slashed with a samurai sword and there were threats to torch his house.

Despite police reports lodged, Kallang claimed there were no arrests since the police cited a lack of evidence.

"Kayong didn't have any enemies, at least not those who would want to kill him.

"So this is not a surprise for us. The land dispute issue has been going on for more than 10 years," he told Malaysiakini.

Meanwhile, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) secretariat director Mark Bujang said after Kayong's murder, those who knew the Miri PKR branch secretary had suspected that the killing was related to plantation issues.

"But we couldn't confirm it during the first few days of the murder because we weren't sure whether it was actually due to this or because of something else.

"Now we can safely say that the company is suspected because the boss, Lee Chee Kiang's name was mentioned in the charge sheet when the suspected murderer was brought to court the other day," he said.

Lee had allegedly abetted in the murder of Kayong. He is believed to have fled to Australia, two days after the murder.

Mohamad Fitri Pauzi, 29, was charged with murdering the PKR leader while Lie Chang Loon was charged with abetting in the murder.

Police are also looking for two more suspects.

Acknowledging that Australia does not deport those who face the death penalty back to their home countries, Sarawak Dayak Association (Pedas) president Collin Imran Abdullah, however, pointed out that Lee had not been sentenced.

"So it shouldn't be a problem for Australia [to deport him]. Hopefully, the Australian government will give its full cooperation," he added.

Kayong is best known as an activist on native customary land rights issues, and was also the PKR Bekenu candidate during the Sarawak state election in May.

The father of two was shot dead while waiting at a traffic light intersection on the morning of June 21 in Miri.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Malaysiakini.

(Launched on November 20th, 1999, offers daily news and views in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil.)

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole