February 6, 2007

Missing for 25 years after getting on wrong bus

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A 76-year-old Malay Muslim woman from southern Thailand who got on the wrong bus 25 years ago and ended up living at the other end of the country has been reunited with her family, officials and domestic media said on Tuesday.

Unable to speak, read or write Thai, Jaeyaena Beuraheng boarded a bus in Malaysia thinking it was bound for Narathiwat, one of three Muslim-majority provinces in Buddhist Thailand's far south.

Instead, she ended up 1,200 km (750 miles) to the north in Bangkok. Her predicament grew worse when she boarded a bus she thought was heading south only to end up in Chiang Mai, another 700 km to the north, the Nation newspaper reported.

She eked out a living as a beggar for five years before being arrested in 1987 and put into a centre for homeless people in a nearby province, where she has remained ever since.

She was finally reunited with her eight children -- who were told she had been run over by a train -- after three students from Narathiwat came to work at the centre and spoke to her.

"It was only when the students in Muslim clothes visited her and she started chatting to them that we realised she wasn't mute," centre director Jintana Satjang told Reuters.

The woman had been known as "Mrs. Mon" because centre staff thought her mutterings sounded like Mon, a tribal language in neighbouring Myanmar, she added.

Thailand's three southernmost provinces were annexed by Bangkok a century ago and remain culturally distinct from the rest of the country. Eighty percent of the population are Muslim and speak Malay as a first language.

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