In the first of a two-part series on the seven Orang Asli pupils who vanished without a trace in the jungles of Gua Musang, Kelantan more than a month ago, their distressed families tell The Malaysian Insider of their fears and frustrations as they hold out hope of being reunited with their children.
More than a month after seven Orang Asli children went missing from their boarding school in Pos Tohoi, Gua Musang, in Kelantan, their distraught families now believe they have been abducted by illegal organ traders.
They are also slowly losing hope of ever seeing their children alive again, as the continuing extensive search and rescue operation involving hundreds of trekkers, over some 80 sq km of the vast Balah forest reserve surrounding the area, has turned up empty.
“I think the children have been abducted. Nothing like this has happened before. There are no footprints, even,” said Midah Angah, whose children Norieen Yaacob, 10 and Haikal, 8, are among the seven who went missing on August 23.
Frustration is mounting as the devastated parents claimed that the authorities were not taking the case seriously, convinced that this was because they were “merely Orang Asli kids”.
“I still have hope but it is fading. I just wish the authorities would begin searching in nearby towns. They have yet to do so,” Midah, a widow, told The Malaysian Insider during an interview at a relative’s home in Pos Tohoi, located some 300m from Sekolah Kebangsaan Tohoi, where her children were last seen.
The 40-year-old mother of seven said Norieen and Haikal – her two youngest children – had only joined the school in 2014 and earlier this year, respectively.
“Norieen began going to school last year. And since our village is in the interior, we have to leave them at the hostel. I did not allow her to attend school earlier as I was afraid something like this would happen.
“Now it has,” she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.
Traumatised by the incident, Midah has not allowed another two of her children who were studying in the same school, to go back.
“I have not allowed the other two to go to school since because I am still traumatised. Two of my children went missing from the hostel, under the care of the teachers.”
Norieen, Haikal and five others – Mirsudiar Aluj, 11; Ika Ayel, 9; Sasa Sobrie, 8; Linda Rosli, 8, and Juvina David, 7 – went missing on August 23 from their school hostel. Haikal is the only boy in the group.
They are believed to have run into the forest surrounding their school after being warned of punishment by school teachers for swimming in a nearby river without permission.
“The children ran away because of the teachers,” Midah said, adding that her children had previously walked all the way from school to their home in Kampung Penad Pos Simpor, located kilometres away, without any untoward incident.
It takes a full day’s walk to reach the interior village from Pos Tohoi, which is more than 60km away from the nearest town, Gua Musang.
Linda’s father Rosli Alik (pic) shared Midah’s fears, saying that “something bad” must have made his daughter run away from school as she had never done it before.
“I only allowed her to go to school in January. She has never run away before. This is the first time. I am so sad that she has gone missing just a few months after she began attending school.
“I just can’t cry anymore. My hope is fading fast. Sometimes, I feel there is hope because of the encouragement I get from the people around me. But other times, it is just sadness and dejection.”
Rosli, like Midah, believes that his daughter was abducted and said he heard about organ traffickers from others.
“We suspected that it was abduction all this while. But the authorities told us that taking away seven children is impossible. At the most, only three could possibly be abducted.
“But we, the parents, feel differently. But since they are the authorities, we just keep quiet,” he said, adding that many lorries and trucks have been going in and out of the area recently.
Kelantan Orang Asli Village Network youth chief Dendi Johari (pic) echoed the parents’ sentiments, although he said that no other child had gone missing from the area before.
“No, no one has gone missing before. But we have heard of these organ traffickers and fear that our children might have been taken by them,” he said when met in Pos Tohoi.
He also said that several “bomoh” (shaman) who had come to help locate the missing children were not successful, affirming suspicions that they had been snatched away.
“Orang Asli believe in spirits but we also believe that the bomoh could have located their whereabouts if they had been been taken by these forces.”
Another distraught parent Ayel Ajeb, 48, has vowed not to give up the search for his daughter Ika, the eighth out of his 10 children.
“I was in Kuala Lumpur when I got the news that my daughter was missing. I could not immediately come back as there was no bus ticket available for that night.
“I came back two days after Ika was reported missing and me and the other fathers, uncles, relatives; we slept in the forest that night hoping we’d come across them.”
Ayel (pic) said he could not be sure what happened to his daughter but added that abduction was one of the theories that kept playing in his head.
“I don’t know what to think anymore. But I will not go back to my village (Kampung Penad Pos Simpor) until I hear some news.”
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was reported to have said during a visit to Pos Tohoi earlier this week that eight government and state agencies involving more than 200 people are searching for the children.
Zahid, who is also home minister, said the operation in the deep jungles has been expanded from an 80km radius to a radius of 140km.
This includes police, the army, the Fire and Rescue Department, the Civil Defence Department, National Registration Department and the People’s Volunteer Corps using two Royal Malaysian Air Force helicopters and two tracker dogs to search for the children.
Recently, 120 members from the 4th Border Regiment (RS) in Gerik, Perak, took over the search and rescue operation from the 216 personnel from 1 RS, Tanah Merah in Kelantan.
The search and rescue operations centre was moved from Pos Tohoi to the Gua Musang district police headquarters this week, but police have said that the effort will continue. – October 3, 2015.