AIZAWL/AGARTALA, Jan 22 (IANS): Two Mizo drivers, who were kidnapped by militants Nov 23 last year, have been released easing ethnic tension in western Mizoram, officials said Wednesday.
At least 500 people including women and children belonging to the Reang tribe of Mizoram have taken shelter in Tripura in view of the ethnic troubles.
"Two private vehicle drivers - Sanglianthanga and Lalzamliana - were released (and) handed over to the Mizoram Police's CID (Special Branch) in Mamit district late Tuesday evening," a Mizoram police official told reporters.
Mizo groups called off their voluntary search operation after their release. The search operation made the tribals leave their villages in western Mizoram Jan 15-16 and Jan 18-19 out of fear and take shelter in northern Tripura.
A third hostage, Deep Mandal, a Kolkata-based telecommunications professional and an employee of Noida-based Telecom Network Solutions, who was also abducted by the militants along with the Mizo drivers, remains in the militants' captivity.
Police suspect that the National Liberation Front of Tripura aided by suspected Reang militants abducted the three people from an area along the Tripura-Mizoram-Bangladesh border.
"Most of the panic stricken tribal refugees have returned to their villages and the remaining people would go back to their homes in the next couple of days," north Tripura District Magistrate Prashant Kumar Goel had earlier told IANS on phone.
Over 36,000 tribal refugees, also called Bru, have been living in seven makeshift camps in Tripura for the past 17 years after fleeing their villages in Mizoram following ethnic trouble 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, union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and his predecessor P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on a number of occasions and requested their intervention to ensure the safe return of the refugees.
Sarkar, who also holds the home portfolio in Tripura, 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 refugees have been insisting that without a formal agreement between the central government, the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura and the tribal leaders, their return to homes and subsequent rehabilitation will remain uncertain.