Fast-flowing river claims 3 children in Malaysia

KOTA BARU - Three of the orang asli children, who went missing for almost six weeks, were swept away by the river, according to the mo­ther of one of the two survivors.

Norieen Yaakob, 10, who was found alive on Friday, told her mother Midah Angah, 40, that her brother, Haikal, eight, and two others drowned in the fast flowing Sg Perias.

"She said she saw Haikal drinking from the river and saw him being swept away but she could not do anything about it," Midah said at Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II yesterday.

The petite and gaunt-looking Norieen, who was lying on the hospital bed, was quiet and only stared when she was asked questions.

Midah said her daughter was still traumatised by the ordeal.

Norieen and Miksudiar Aluj, 11, were found alive after 46 days. The remains of the three who drowned together with that of another child, Juvina David, were recovered. One more child is still missing.

The girls were found in a weak and malnourished state along the banks of Sg Perias on Friday.

They were transferred from the Gua Musang Hospital to the Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II on Friday evening.

Midah said Norieen also told her that Sasa Sobrie, eight, was sleeping on a boulder near Sg Perias at night but was gone the next morning.

The same thing happened to Linda Rosli, eight, who slept at the river bank but also disappeared after that, added Midah.

Asked why the children ran away from school, she said Norieen did not explain it to her.

Miksudiar's mother Rozita Bahir, 41, said her daughter had not been eating well.

"She vomits each time she eats bread," she said.

Norieen's uncle, Harry Boy, 20, a first year Business Management student of UiTM Machang, nearly fainted after seeing the girl being wheeled into a Hospital Raja Perem­puan Zainab II General Hospital ward.

He said he broke down after listening to his niece's experience, especially when she related having seen friends die or disappear.

"It was too painful to hear that the first to die was my eight-year-old nephew Haikal," he said.

Kelantan state health director Datuk Dr Ahmad Razin said the girls who survived were estimated to have lost about 10kg each but were in stable condition.

"There are two issues that we need to pay attention to, one is their serious lack of nutrition and the other, their psychological state," he told reporters at the hospital yesterday after visits by ministers and government agency heads.

Dr Ahmad said the girls were severely emaciated and the hospital had to nourish them gradually.

"They also appear to be depressed and do not want to talk. When I tried to examine them, they did not want to co-operate," he said, adding that they seemed to still be traumatised by their ordeal.

The seven children were initially believed to have fled into the forest on Aug 23 to avoid punishment for 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.

Dr Ahmad said Norieen and Miksudiar were transferred from Hospital Gua Musang to the Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II because it has more specialists such as paediatricians, dieticians, pharmacists and psychiatrists.

Paediatrician Dr Nik Nasiruddin Nik Leh said the girls needed to be monitored properly.

Asked how long it would take for the children to recover, he said it could take between three and six months.