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After Months-Long LAX Stopover, Homeward Bound

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page A02

A Vietnamese emigre who wanted nothing more than to return to the land he fled finally got his wish -- but only after enduring the mother of all airport layovers.

The man, a 48-year-old coffee farmer and member of Vietnam's Montagnard ethnic minority, had left his home more than two years ago amid religious persecution by the communist government. Along with several hundred other Montagnards, he was resettled near Charlotte, N.C., and found a job.

This Vietnamese man had been stranded at the Los Angeles airport since last year, after losing the travel documents that would allow him to board an international flight. (Mel Melcon -- Los Angeles Times)

But missing his family, he decided last year to return. His journey ended abruptly in September during a layover at Los Angeles International Airport when he lost all the travel documents he needed to board an international flight.

The man -- who spoke no English -- was soon spotted camping out on benches in the international terminal. He lived there for more than a month, surviving on food donated by sympathetic airport workers and refusing to move to a shelter until officials agreed to help him file for replacement documents.

Last week, nearly five months after he arrived at LAX, the man boarded a Thai Airways flight for the first leg of his journey home. Airport workers bid him farewell with a gift of $95 in cash but expressed concern he could be arrested by the government when he arrives back in Vietnam; officials had refused to release his name because of those concerns. But the man said he had no such fear.

"God will protect me. I've been praying," he said through an interpreter, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Thank you to everyone at the airport."

-- Amy Argetsinger

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