Hill Tribe Members Reunited With Families

Thirty-four ethnic minority hill tribe members pulled last week from remote jungle near the Lao border were reunited with their families Tuesday at a ceremony in Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital Banlung, provincial authorities and rights workers said.

The eight families—des­cen­dants of 12 people who fled from Vietnamese troops in 1979, and included two former Khmer Rouge soldiers—were united with relatives after a 25-year disap­pearance and virtually no contact with outsiders, said Meas Khlemsa, monitor for the Rata­nak­kiri branch of the rights group Adhoc.

When returned by Lao authorities, the group still believed that Pol Pot was in power, rights workers said.

“They lived in hiding because they always felt intimidated by strange people,” Meas Khlemsa said.

The group was picked up earlier this month when they wandered into a so-called border “white zone”—contested border territory between Cambodia and Laos in the region known as the Dragon’s Tail.

Lao authorities arrested the 34 and contacted Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun, who escorted the families back to Banlung on Nov 18 and circulated news of their arrival through the province to locate surviving relatives.

At the ceremony Tuesday, each family received five pieces of zinc roofing, a cubic meter of wood, farming tools and some food donated by NGOs, said Second Deputy Governor Muong Poy.

Of the four original families that fled into the jungles, three were united with relatives in O’Chum district and one with their family in Bokeo district, Muong Poy said.

News of the group’s appearance came as a surprise to many of the relatives, who had long assumed their kin to be dead, Adhoc Provincial Director Pen Bonnar said.

When they were reunited, “nobody cried. They were chatting and laughing,” he said.

Composed of people from the Jarai, Tampuon, Kreung and Kachak ethnic groups and ranging in age from 55 to 10, the 34 people communicated with one another in the Kreung language, said Meas Khlemsa, who interviewed the group after their return.

Among them were former Khmer Rouge soldiers Romam Luong, 55, and Ly Mon, who is 40 or 41, Meas Khlemsa said.


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