AGARTALA, Jan 20 (IANS): Over 2,423 tribals, including women and children, belonging to Reang tribe in Mizoram, have taken shelter in Tripura, officials said here Monday.
"Over 2,423 men, women and children comprising 368 families late Sunday evening took shelter in four villages in Tripura," a Tripura relief department official told IANS.
He said: "Civil and top police officials of Tripura government have rushed to the areas and officials from Mizoram government are expected to come to persuade the refugees to return their villages."
Tension was prevailing in Reang-dominated villages in Mamit district of western Mizoram over the kidnapping of three people Nov 23, 2013, 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.
"Mizo students and youths have begun a mass voluntary search operation to rescue the kidnapped people. Several local NGOs fixed a deadline (Jan 15) to secure release the hostages. Tribal families apparently feared a repeat of the 1997-ethnic violence and fled," a refugee leader told reporters.
The fresh influx of tribals has taken place after over 250 Reang tribals, who fled to Tripura from nearby western Mizoram last week, returned to their homes following persuasion of Tripura and Mizoram government officials.
Over 36,000 tribal refugees (also called Bru), have already been living in seven makeshift camps in 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, 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.