GUA MUSANG: Seven orang asli children aged between seven and 11 went missing for 46 days in hilly terrain described as unforgiving by adult hikers.
Miraculously, two have survived just when hope of finding any alive was fading after the discovery of the remains of two children in the surrounding area days earlier.
Norieen Yaakob, 10, and Miksudiar Aluj, 11, were found safe, though gaunt and emaciated, in Sungai Perias here at 1pm yesterday.
Although the schoolgirls survived the ordeal in the forest, they experienced the pain of witnessing the death of their schoolmate, whose skeletal remains were found near them.
The dead child was later identified as Ika Ayel, nine. Her remains were located not far from where the body of Sasa Sobrie, eight, was discovered near SK Tohoi – the residential school the children attended – in Sungai Perias, near Pos Tohoi here, on Wednesday.
On Thursday, a skull and torso, believed to be those of one of the missing children, were recovered at the riverbank. The identity is yet to be confirmed, pending a DNA test.
News of the children’s safe return brought some cheer to the search-and-rescue team, if not the nation, which has been gripped with anxiety as the days dragged on with no sign of the children since they went missing on Aug 23.
Even as the two were found alive, the episode continued to confound the orang asli community.
The three who are still unaccounted for are Linda Rosli, eight, Juvina David, seven, and the only boy among them, Haikal Yaakob, eight.
The Department of Orang Asli Development director-general Datuk Hasnan Hassan said even sniffer dogs had not been able to trace the children during the search the past few weeks until Sasa’s body was found.
“It has been a puzzle to many of us,” he said, adding that everyone had to be patient and wait for the forensic and DNA reports to confirm details such as the time of death.
Kelantan Orang Asli Youth Network chairman Dendi Johari said the orang asli children were not familiar with the terrain in the jungle and were likely to face difficulty finding their way and surviving.
“Moreover, they didn’t have any lighter or parang with them and the place where they were found did not have any fruits that they could eat,” he said.
The orang asli children, he noted, were not taught jungle survival skills as they were sent to a boarding school at a young age.
“If they had stayed with their parents in the village, their parents would have taught them to recognise the various trees and leaves which are edible,” he said.
Dendi said the incident was a puzzle to the orang asli because they themselves were skilful in jungle survival and had scoured the whole area but could not find any trace of the children in their search.
“We, the orang asli community here, are truly saddened to hear of the deaths,” he said.
The seven children were believed to have fled into the forest to avoid punishment from swimming in a nearby river without permission.
But on Sept 15, the parents had explained at a press conference at the Suhakam (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) office in Kuala Lumpur that the seven children had gone missing after they could not find their older siblings in the boarding school.
Three of the group of 13 older siblings were penalised for swimming in a nearby river, prompting the other 10 to hide in a nearby farm. They later returned to the school.
But while the older siblings were in hiding, the seven thought they had gone home and decided to walk home for the weekend, without informing the school authorities.