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The Last 'Lost' Patrol

SEN MONOROM-Two individuals claiming to be members of the anti-Vietnamese FULRO guerrilla

army, whose 398 soldiers and family members turned in their weapons, renounced their

struggle for an independent "Montagnard homeland" inside Vietnam and were

allowed to immigrate to North Carolina last November, are currently under UNTAC protection

here in Mondolkiri's provincial capital.

The men in question say they were sent on patrol to Vietnam in mid-l990 and only

made it back to their now abandoned jungle headquarters on Cambodian territory in

December l992.

According to Capt. Y Ngo'm Mlo, 38, and Y Bhim Nieth, 45, they and four other FULRO

soldiers were sent by Col. Y Peng Ayun, the FULRO (an acronym from French for United

Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) commanding officer to Vietnam in May,

1990. In June of that year the six guerrillas were caught in an ambush with Vietnamese

soldiers in which four of the FULRO soldiers were killed.

Capt. Y Ngo'm says he was wounded in the firefight and for the next nine months he

and Y Bhim hid out in the jungle in Vietnam's Central Highlands living off roots,

wild pumpkins, frogs and fruit until the captain's foot had healed sufficiently so

he could walk again. Wild animals were shot for food until their ammunition ran out,

according to Y Ngo'm.

The two men say they finally made it back to the FULRO base camp deep in remote jungle

in northeastern Mondolkiri province in December last year expecting a hero's welcome.

In broken English and with graphic hand gestures, Y Bhim described the two men's

shock at finding the camp deserted, the huts abandoned and decaying refuse littering

the site.

The two men say they then took to desolate jungle trails in search of their comrades.

After discarding their tattered uniforms and weapons they decided to try and meet

up with any officials in the area who could give them aid.

On May 16 this year in the village of Bougra about 30 kms from the Vietnamese border

the two men made contact with members of the Uruguayan battalion and asked for help

to locate Col. Peng Ayun, their commanding officer. By coincidence, the Uruguayan

sergeant they met recognized the name they kept repeating as he had been involved

in escorting the main FULRO group out of their jungle hideout for resettlement to

the United States.

The Uruguayans were at first reluctant to believe their story which was checked and

re-checked after the two men were brought to Sen Monorom.

Lt. Techera of UruBatt showed the men a large-scale map and without hesitation they

pointed to the now-abandoned FULRO jungle headquarters. In addition, the men could

correctly name all the individuals in photos taken

by the Uruguayans of the FULRO leadership before their departure. Finally, Capt.

Y Ngo'm said his brother and his wife had been with the main FULRO contingent and

a Uruguayan soldier said he recalled their presence.

However, an analyst in Phnom Penh familiar with the FULRO story notes several inconsistencies

in the two men's story. First, given that the FULRO soldiers moved their primitive

base camp frequently to avoid detection, the location of the main force of FULRO

soldiers back in l990 was not the now- abandoned camp which the two men say they

left from three years ago. Also, the FULRO guerrillas did not have uniforms, which

the two men say they discarded.

The Uruguayans have given the two men protection, new clothes, food and shelter.

They say they have filed a report on the matter and submitted it to UNTAC headquarters

in Phnom Penh with a request for guidance on what to do. The UNTAC military press

spokesman in Phnom Penh says that no report has been received on the alleged FULRO

soldiers. The U.S. Mission in Phnom Penh said it had not been officially apprised

of the situation.

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