AN indigenous ethnic group faces an uncertain future after a Malaysian tycoon withdrew from the M$15 billion (HK$32.66 billion) Bakun Dam hydroelectric project in central Sarawak. The lives of more than 9,000 Orang Ulu, who survive on farming and fishing, have already been disrupted by the government-backed project to block the Batang Balui river and flood their land. But the decision by Ting Pek Khiing, executive chairman of Ekran Berhad, to pull out of the project and seek compensation has added to their problems. A spokesman for a human rights group said people had delayed planting rice while waiting for resettlement, which had been postponed several times, and were dependent on uncertain outside sources for food. The Orang Ulu went to the High Court in an attempt to stop Mr Ting's company building the dam - seen as a legal battle between one of the country's richest citizens and its poorest. Ekran won the court case but it turned out to be something of a hollow victory for Mr Ting. The Government decided to defer construction to help reduce the current account deficit and announced last week it was taking over Ekran's stake. The project has had a troubled history. Questions were raised about the environmental impact of flooding an area the size of Singapore, the planned felling of rainforest trees in about 69,000 hectares of jungle and the displacement of the Orang Ulu. The Government was accused of laxity in enforcing environmental impact study guidelines and Ekran and its main partner were involved in a dispute which saw them split. The project was to be completed in 2002 but when he announced the Government's takeover plan, the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, said the postponement should be 'as long as possible'. The Government still plans to resettle the Orang Ulu, saying it was necessary because part of the area, where river diversion tunnels had been completed, was 'not fit' to stay in.