Laos Sends Back Straying Hill Tribe Families

Seven ethnic hill tribe families from Ratanakkiri province were returned to Cambodia last week, after they were discovered straying across the border into Laotian territory, Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said Monday.

Kham Khoeun said Laotian authorities arrested 34 Cambo­dian hill tribe members, including about 20 women, earlier this month.

Laotian authorities then contacted the Ratanakkiri governor, who picked the families up and brought them to the provincial capital, Banlung, on Thurs­day, Kham Khoeun said.

The families belong to a group of minorities comprised of Jarai, Tampuon, Kreung and Kachak ethnic groups which fled into the jungles around 1979, near the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. They have since lived a nomadic life in the remote border area known as the Dragon’s Tail, largely isolated from the rest of the world, the governor said.

“They didn’t join the Khmer Rouge; they didn’t join the government,” he said.

“They re­ceived no information from the country,”

The group was discovered wearing clothes made only from tree fibers and only three of them spoke Khmer, said Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc.

Kham Khoeun said he will re­unite the families later this week with their relatives, whom he has tracked down in O’Chum, An­dong Meas and Bokeo districts.

“At first, they felt so frightened, but after they met their relatives, they were happy,” he said.

Kham Khoeun said that many of the 34 are ill, suffering from malaria and other diseases that they contracted in the jungles.

They are un­dergoing medical treatment in Banlung, he said.

Local NGOs have donated food and blankets to them, he added.

Kham Khoeun said that in 1996 he encountered a similar group of migratory hill tribe members in the remote jungles.

“I had surrounded and nabbed them like wild chickens….They had been very frightened,” Khan Khoeun recalled Monday .



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