AIZAWL/AGARTALA, June 2 (IANS): The much-awaited repatriation of tribal refugees from Tripura to Mizoram is likely to start next week, an official in Aizawl said Monday.
Over 36,000 Reang tribals are sheltered in seven camps in northern Tripura for almost 17 years.
They fled their villages in western Mizoram following an ethnic conflict with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official in October 1997.
"Mizoram state-level core committee on refugee repatriation met in Aizawl last week and decided to start the repatriation next week. State chief secretary L. Tochhawng asked the home department and district officials to expedite the repatriation programme," an official of the Mizoram home department told reporters in Aizawl.
He said the central government has sanctioned Rs.7.87 crore as financial assistance for the repatriated refugees.
"An adequate amount of foodgrains has been stored to provide free rations to the repatriated tribal refugees for one year," the official added.
An official of the north Tripura district administration said in Agartala that the authorities would arrange vehicles and provide security to the home-bound tribals.
The official said refugee leaders told the Supreme Court's Special Commissioner Harsh Mander that if the Mizoram government ensures their security and livelihood, they have no problem in returning to their villages.
The Tripura official said the refugee leaders had earlier accused the Mizoram government of failing to ensure their security and provide livelihood.
Mander, accompanied by North Tripura District Magistrate Sandeep R. Rathod and Kanchanpur Sub-divisional Magistrate Nantu Ranjan Das, last month visited the tribal refugee camps to oversee their relief and rehabilitation.
The Reang tribals - locally known as "Bru" - insist on a written agreement with the Mizoram government, assuring them security and economic settlement in their villages.
The Mizoram government recently undertook a fresh initiative to ensure the safe return of the refugees.
Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana held a meeting with senior officials in Aizawl last month and took the decision to facilitate the return of the refugees.
The Election Commission (EC) in April made arrangements for the refugees in six of the seven Tripura relief camps to cast their votes for the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram through postal ballots.
The poll panel decision aggrieved six NGOs and students' groups and they called for a three-day shutdown and a poll boycott in Mizoram.
The EC then deferred the April 9 polls in Mizoram to April 11 due to the stir.
Of the refugees, 11,500 were on electoral rolls and 71 percent of them voted through postal ballots.
Despite the Tripura government's repeated requests, an earlier initiative of the union home ministry and the Mizoram government to repatriate the refugees to their villages failed.
Only about 5,000 refugees returned to their homes in the past three-and-half years following continued persuasion by officials of Mizoram, Tripura and the union home ministry. The repatriation process was subsequently stopped.