Tue, Jan 23, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Rights groups offer to help Oyadao's `jungle woman'

AP AND AFP , PHNOM PENH

Rochom P'ngieng holds a wooden pole at her home in Oyadao, Rattanak Kiri Province, about 660km northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday. Human rights groups fear that the 27-year-old woman is suffering from the spotlight cast on her since she emerged from the wild and offered yesterday to provide any needed medical and psychiatric treatment.

PHOTO: AP

She sits for hours at a time, staring at the floor or at the throngs of villagers that have mobbed this small shack, her unsmiling face betraying nothing other than occasional fear flashing in her eyes.

Human rights groups fear that Cambodia's "jungle woman" is suffering from the spotlight cast on her since she emerged from the wild, and yesterday offered to provide medical and psychiatric treatment if requested.

A family claims the woman is Rochom P'ngieng, 27, who disappeared in the jungle of Cambodia's northeastern Rattanakiri Province while herding water buffaloes when she was eight years old.

The family claims she is their long lost daughter, based on a scar on her right arm from an accident that occurred before her disappearance from the remote village of Oyadao.

"I dare anyone to wager 10,000 dollars if they think she is not my daughter," challenged Sal Lou, a policeman in this isolated village who said he immediately recognised his child by an old scar when she was brought naked and dirty from the jungle 10 days ago.

Sal Lou has said he is willing to undergo DNA testing along with the woman "to clear any doubts that she is my child."

Their hut has drawn crowds of villagers and journalists, keen to see the woman whose family says she was found on Jan. 13 walking like a monkey out of the jungle. She pats her stomach when hungry and uses animal-like grunts to communicate.

Since being taken to Oyadao, the woman has tried three times to escape back into the jungle, tearing at the dirty white blouse and patterned skirt her would-be parents dressed her in.

"Over the weekend she acted crazy -- she was scared of the crowds and the journalists trying to take pictures of her," said Rochom Ly, 27-year-old Rochom P'ngieng's younger brother.

Scores of people have come to watch her, milling around Sal Lou's ramshackle house, staring silently at the woman as she sleeps, sits squatting against the wall or is spoon-fed by Rochom Soy, Sal Lou's wife.

Many have begun to question Sal Lou's story.

How, they ask, could a woman from the jungle have such smooth hands?

If she had been truly wild, they ask, why are her fingernails neatly trimmed and her hair not a matted tangle?

Licadho, a non-governmental human rights group, fears the woman is enduring trauma after returning to society and could have been a victim of abuse, said Kek Galabru, the group's president.

"We believe that this woman is a victim of some kind of torture, maybe sexual or physical," she said. Licadho has offered to pay travel expenses to bring the woman and the family to Phnom Penh, about 400km away, and to provide housing costs while she undergoes treatment in the capital.

Penn Bunna, an official at Adhoc, another Cambodian human rights group, says the constant flock of visitors is likely causing new stress for the woman.

Adhoc has also offered to help fund psychiatric treatment.

"She must have experienced traumatic events in the jungle that have affected her ability to speak," he said.

Since the woman is unable to speak, her identity remains unclear with many questioning if she is indeed Rochom P'ngieng.

"I am doubtful that she went missing 19 years ago. I came here to see what she looked like, and she looks normal like us," said Dub Thol, who travelled from a neighbouring district to see the woman.

The woman has offered up no clues as to how she spent the past nearly two decades, communicating only her most basic needs with simple gestures.

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