From the Star:
Villagers tussle with church
By MARTIN CARVALHO
MALACCA: About 100 villagers from Kampung Ayer Salak, Bukit Rambai, were engaged in a standoff with church authorities yesterday over the demolition of a RM1mil mansion which was built illegally on church land.
The 10am incident saw Bishop Paul Tan accompanied by several priests and officials arriving at the almost completed home to oversee the demolition work.
The situation became tense when a group of villagers from the mostly Teochew Catholic community moved to stop the demolition by hurling abuse at the church authorities.
State executive councillor for tourism Datuk Seet Har Cheow, whose home is located in the village, attempted to mediate a settlement between the two parties.
However, police had to be called in to defuse the tension when both parties refused to back off and the demolition work was temporarily deferred.
At the centre of the controversy is a three-storey mansion with 18 rooms built by a Lim family without approval from the church or the local authority.
Kampung Baru Ayer Salak is home to about 120 Teochew Catholic families who settled there in the early 1800s.
About 180ha of the village land was handed to the church in the 1840s on which the St Mary’s Church was built in 1886.
Bishop Tan told reporters later that the church had agreed in principle when the Lim family made a request to rebuild their single-storey semi-wooden home on Oct 29, but said the family started construction without waiting for approval from the church or the local authority.
He said three stop-work orders and notices to demolish were issued to the church and building owners between April and June.
The church had to comply with the notice to demolish the building as it did not want to be seen as condoning illegal practices, he said.
“It is not a situation where the church is depriving poor people of a roof over their heads,” he said, adding that the proposed home cost more than RM1mil.
Meanwhile, Peter Lim, 41, a businessman, said it was unfair of the church to restrict villagers from reconstructing their homes.
“Our forefathers were pioneers who opened up the land for cultivation over 150 years ago; why should we need permission now when it was not so in the past?” he asked, claiming that Bishop Tan had refused to meet his family to resolve the matter.
He added that the family would consider taking the matter to court.