The women and female children sported the austere, Khmer Rouge bobbed haircuts. One of the men still wore revolution-style footwearbetter known as "Ho Chi Minh sandals"handmade from rubber car tires. When Lao authorities caught the groupwhich had now grown to 34 men, women, children and infantscrossing the border from Cambodia, they were clad in clothes fashioned from tree bark.
Escorted back to their native province of Ratanakiri in mid-November, the lost band told government officials and human-rights workers that they had lived in a remote hill-tribe area until 1984 and then pushed into isolated jungles, living off animals and plants. The transition to civilization has been jarring. Born and raised in the jungle, a 25-year-old woman called At said none in the group had ever suffered a serious illnessuntil they came into contact with other people, when many succumbed to sickness or fevers. Ro'mam Luong, 55, was amazed at the color TV in the government office where the group stayed on their first nights back in Cambodia: "I have no idea what it is. It's very strange. But I like it. Now I want a hoe, an ax and a machete for farming." Reunited with relatives, the group has been given land by provincial authorities and building materials, tools and food from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to start their new existences. "I lived in the jungle and did not hear anything from the outside world," said 40-year-old Chheur Rinsai, shortly after arriving in Ratanakiri. "I didn't know that it was so happy here. We were tricked."