AGARTALA, Jan 18 (IANS): All the over 250 Reang tribals, including women and children, who had fled to Tripura from nearby western Mizoram earlier this week, have since returned home, officials in the Tripura capital said Saturday.
"After persuasion from Tripura and Mizoram government officials, all the 253 people (from the Reang tribe) have returned to their villages in western Mizoram," a Tripura government relief department official told IANS.
He said that Mizoram government officials have assured panic-stricken tribals that they would be provided security in their villages.
"Out of fear and because of the prevailing tension, around 250 tribal people had fled to Tripura from nearby Mamit district in western Mizoram Monday and Tuesday," north Tripura District Magistrate Prashant Kumar Goel had earlier told IANS on phone.
He said: "Tripura officials have immediately rushed to Kanchanpur along the Tripura-Mizoram border (195 km north of Agartala) and Mizoram officials also came to the areas where the refugees took shelter. Officials of both the states have persuaded the refugees to return to their villages in Mamit district."
Goel said he has also 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.
Among the three kidnapped was a Kolkata-based telecommunications professional. Two Mizoram-based drivers of private vehicles were also kidnapped.
The militants Wednesday released the two drivers.
"As Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a powerful students' union, began a mass voluntary search operation from last week to rescue the kidnapped people, tribal families apparently feared a repeat of the 1997-ethnic violence and fled," 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 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 and 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 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."