Fresh influx of refugees from Mizoram to Tripura

Agartala, Jan 15: In fresh tension, around 250 Reang tribals, including women and children, have fled to Tripura from nearby western Mizoram, officials said here Wednesday.

“Out of fear and because of prevailing tension, around 250 tribal people have fled to Tripura from nearby Mamit district in western Mizoram Monday and Tuesday,” north Tripura District Magistrate Prashant Kumar Goel told IANS by phone.

He said: “Tripura officials have immediately rushed to Kanchanpur along the Tripura-Mizoram border (195 km north of Agartala) and Mizoram officials are also coming to the areas where the refugees are now staying. Officials of both the states would persuade the refugees to return to their villages in Mamit district.”

Goel said that he has already talked to his Mamit district counterpart and requested him to take appropriate steps to take back the tribals to their villages — Damdiai, Tumpanglui and New Eden.

Tension was prevailing in Reang-dominated villages in Mamit district over the kidnapping of three people Nov 23 last year by the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) militants, aided by suspected Reang militants.

The three kidnapped people included a Kolkata-based telecommunications professional and two Mizoram-based drivers of private vehicles.

According to police, the abductors had demanded Rs.5 crore for their release, and set a deadline of Jan 15. The Mizoram government, however, ruled out paying any such ransom, saying it would set a bad precedent.

“As Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a powerful students’ union, began a mass voluntary search operation from last week to rescue the captives, tribal families apparently feared a repeat of the 1997-ethnic violence and fled in fear,” a refugee leader told reporters.

Over 36,000 tribal refugees (locally called Bru), have already been living in seven makeshift camps in northern Tripura for the past 17 years (since October 1997), after fleeing their villages in Mizoram following ethnic troubles with the majority Mizos. The trouble began after a Mizo forest official was killed.

Around 5,000 refugees returned to their homes and villages in the past three years, following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and union home ministry officials.

However, the process got stalled after that.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and his predecessor P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on a number of occasions and requested their intervention to repatriate the refugees to their villages.

Sarkar also holds the home portfolio in Tripura. He told both the prime minister and the union home minister that “continuous presence for over 17 years of refugees from Mizoram has been a matter of concern for Tripura”.

“The long stay brings its own socio-economic and law and order problems. The state government is providing necessary support for early repatriation of these families. However, the process has been extremely slow,” Sarkar said.

The refugees have been insisting that without a formal agreement between the central government and the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura and also the tribal leaders, their return to homes and subsequent rehabilitation will remain uncertain.

The leaders of the refugees have sent several memoranda to the prime minister and the union home minister in support of their seven-point charter of demands.

Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) president A. Sawibunga told IANS over phone: “We have been demanding adequate safety and security for the returning refugees, free rations for two years and Rs.1.50 lakh financial assistance to construct houses and restart cultivation, and allotment of land to all returnee families.”

IANS