Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Psychologist Evaluates 'Jungle Woman'

"A Spanish psychologist met Tuesday with Cambodia's "jungle woman," hoping to unravel some of the mystery surrounding the woman who emerged from the forest, naked and unable to speak, after what may have been nearly two decades in the wild.

Hector Rifa, a doctor of psychology from Spain's University of Oviedo, said his priority was to ensure the woman was receiving proper treatment for whatever traumatic experience she has undergone.

But it was possible he may find clues to the woman's true identity - whether she is indeed a girl who disappeared in 1988 while tending water buffalo, as claimed by a family in northeastern Cambodia who has taken her in as their long-lost daughter.

Rifa said he plans to spend several days at the home of village policeman Sal Lou, who claims the woman is his 27-year-old daughter Rochom P'ngieng.

"I can only tell you that I am (now) taking dinner with them, a nice family," he said, stressing that he was there "to make an evaluation" of the woman.

Sal Lou's family, members of Cambodia's Pnong ethnic minority, say they are certain the woman is Rochom P'ngieng because a scar on her right arm matches one that the missing girl had from an accident before her disappearance from the remote village of Oyadao.

With no other evidence supporting their claim, however, others have speculated that the woman may have a history of mental troubles and simply became lost in the jungle much more recently.

The family's hut has drawn crowds of villagers and journalists, eager to see the woman who was found Jan. 13 walking bent over out of the jungle. She pats her stomach when hungry and uses animal-like grunts to communicate.

Rifa has been working with indigenous people in Rattanakiri province over the past four years for the Spain-based group Psychology Without Borders.

He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he thinks the woman's behavior shows she is having difficulty adapting to normal life, as would be expected if she had been lost in the jungle for an extended period of time.

Sal Lou has said he is willing to undergo DNA testing along with the woman "to clear any doubts that she is my child.""

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