Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Malaysian PM launches project to boost Sarawak

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday launched a major development project worth billions of dollars to fuel growth in resource-rich Sarawak on Borneo Island.

He said the government would spend an initial 5 billion ringgit (US$1.54 billion) to kickstart the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, the last of five programs that form a long-term economic blueprint.

The announcement came just ahead of elections expected to be held next month and would focus on developing the state's energy sources, hydropower, coal, natural gas and petroleum.

"The development, distribution and consumption of energy is a core element leading to the success of the Sarawak Corridor," Abdullah said in a speech at the launch.

He said the project aims to bring economic growth and eradicate poverty in the predominantly rural state of Sarawak by 2030. It will provide about 800,000 jobs over 23 years with private investment targeted at 300 billion ringgit.

"It's not going to be less than 300 billion [ringgit]. It's a huge amount but it involves large developments in various fields ... in Sarawak, which is a very large [state]," he said.

The area earmarked for development is a 320km stretch along the coast facing the South China Sea from Tanjung Manis to Similajau and covers an area of 70,708km2 -- 57 percent of the entire state.

The government is gearing up for polls and has launched another four big-budget masterplans worth billions of dollars to attract foreign investment and develop rural states over the next two decades.

Officials say the main engine of growth for the project is the use of hydroelectricity supplied by the controversial Bakun Dam to power various large-scale heavy industries.

The US$2.5 billion dam project has been condemned as an environmental disaster after an area of rainforest the size of Singapore was inundated, forcing up to 10,000 tribal residents to relocate.

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