Two years ago she emerged from the jungles of Cambodia wild, unkempt, unable to speak and apparently having been missing for almost 20 years.
When Rochom P'ngieng was eventually reunited with the family from which she allegedly went missing, the South East Asian nation quietly celebrated. But two years later all is not well.
Officials have revealed that the 28-year-old has been admitted to a mental hospital after falling ill, only for her father to take her home again. The family that claims she disappeared 19 years ago while feeding water buffalo said she has not eaten for more than a month. “She was very sick and her condition looks worse than when she was first found,” Sal Lou, the man who claims to be the woman's father, told the Agence France-Presse. “She is very skinny now.”
The remarkable story of the “Jungle Woman” has gripped Cambodia. When she was found scavenging for rice and unable to speak anything other than “animal noises”, her family said she was their daughter, who at the age of eight had gone missing in a remote area 400 miles north of the capital, Phnom Penh.
However, the relationship was never proven, and it was never established how she could have survived in the wild for 19 years. Some villagers suspected the woman who emerged from the jungles of the country's north-east, dirty and hunched over like a monkey, was not Rochom P'ngieng, but rather someone else suffering from mental problems who had been lost in the jungle for a much briefer time.
Her father said that after receiving some treatment in a local hospital, he had tried to take the woman home as she had kept trying to escape.
Doctors said they wanted her to stay longer at the hospital but her father had chosen to discharge her. “She still cannot speak. She acts totally like a monkey. Last night, she took off her clothes, and went to hide in the bathroom,” her father added. “Her condition looks worse than the time we brought her from the jungle. She always wants to take off her clothes and crawl back to the jungle. We have to hold her hand all the time at the hospital. Otherwise she would take her clothes off and run away.”
Doctor Hing Phan Sokunthea, director of Ratanakkiri provincial hospital, confirmed that Sal Lou had defied medical advice and checked her out of the hospital. “We wanted to monitor her situation more, but we don't know what to do because the father already took his daughter out of hospital,” he said.
The jungles of Ratanakkiri, some of the most isolated and wild in Cambodia, are known to have held hidden groups of hill tribes in the recent past. In November 2004, 34 people from four hill tribe families emerged from the dense forest where they had fled in 1979 after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.