Mizoram likely to restart Reang refugees' rehabilitation

Aizawl/Agartala, Sep 4 (IANS) The Mizoram government is likely to initiate the return of the 37,000 tribal refugees sheltering in Tripura for almost 16 years from this month, officials said Wednesday.

"I have called a meeting of officials concerned Sep 9. In the meeting, the schedule of repatriation of refugees would be finalised. We want to restart the repatriation from this month," Deputy Commissioner V. Lalremthanga of Mizoram's Mamit district told IANS over phone.

In an earlier round of repatriation of refugees, nearly 4,500 people were rehabilitated in Mizoram from Tripura. That process was stalled after differences arose over the terms of the repatriation.

Mizoram home department joint secretary Lalbiakzama told reporters in Aizawl Monday that the Mizoram government has approached the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to allocate additional quantities of rice for the returning refugees.

"Unless we get the additional quantities of rice for the tribal refugees, how can we provide them free ration for one year?" Lalbiakzama asked.

Talking to IANS, district civil supplies officer K.P. Mathew said that the quantity of rice needed would depend upon how many refugees return to Mizoram.

The tribal Reang refugees, locally called 'Bru', had fled their homes in several villages in Mamit district in western Mizoram in October 1997 after ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official.

Tripura's revenue department secretary Swapan Saha told reporters in Agartala that the union home ministry has recently once again asked the Mizoram government to take back all the 37,000 tribal refugees, living in six makeshift camps in Kanchanpur sub-division of north Tripura, 180 km north of Agartala.

He said: "In a separate letter, Tripura Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar Panda requested his Mizoram counterpart (L. Tochhong) to take suitable steps so that refugees could go back home."

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde in New Delhi in July and requested their intervention.

Sarkar, also holds the home portfolio in Tripura, told both the prime minister and the union home minister that "continuous presence for over 16 years of refugees from Mizoram has been a matter of concern for Tripura".

"The long stay has 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," said Sarkar.

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 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 18-point charter of demands, which include safety and security of the returning refugees, free rations for one year and financial assistance to restart cultivation.

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