Aizawl, April 5 (IANS) The long-awaited repatriation of 36,000 tribal refugees, who have been staying for the past 15 years in camps in Tripura after being displaced from their villages in Mizoram, would resume April 26, union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said here Thursday.
"The Mizoram government has identified 669 families, comprising around 3,350 refugees, to be repatriated between April 26 and May 15," the home minister told reporters.
He said: "Both the chief ministers of Mizoram and Tripura are committed to the repatriation process. The refugees would have to leave the camps in Tripura and come back to their original villages in Mizoram as a part of the repatriation process."
Chidambaram warned against any attempt to disrupt the process.
Chidambaram, who arrived here Wednesday for discussions on resuming the repatriation of refugees, held meetings with Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, senior officials and Reang tribal leaders to finalise the modalities for repatriation of the migrants.
Accompanied by senior officials including the home ministry's joint secretary (internal security) Dharmendra Sharma and Border Security Force special director general Arvind Ranjan, the home minister visited Tuipuibari, Damdiai and other Reang tribal-dominated villages in Mamit district in western Mizoram Thursday to see for himself the rehabilitation of Reangs.
Following ethnic tensions after killing of a Mizo forest official in Mizoram, over 41,000 Reang tribal refugees - locally called Bru - had taken shelter in six camps in north Tripura's Kanchanpur sub-division in October 1997.
A total of 701 tribal families - comprising about 3,585 men, women and children - were sent back last year.
The union home minister also said that 83 Mizo families from Sakhan Hills in Tripura who were affected would also be provided compensation as agreed.
The Mizoram government has been insisting that a rehabilitation package be provided to 83 Mizo families who, according to the state government, had been evicted by the Reang tribals from north Tripura in 1983.
Mizoram' major NGOs and political parties, including the influential Young Mizo Association (YMA), in a memorandum to the union home minister demanded that the 1995 electoral roll be the basis for determining bonafide residents of Mizoram from among the refugees lodged in Tripura camps.
"Only names of those refugees enlisted in the 1995 electoral rolls of Mizoram and their descendants be repatriated to their villages. This is because large number of Reang tribals from neighbouring states and adjoining Bangladesh could have infiltrated into the refugees' camps during the past 12 years," the memorandum said.
On the contrary, the Reang tribals strongly opposed the demand of considering 1995 as the cut-off year for the repatriation of refugees.
The refugees, lodged in six camps in northern Tripura, 180 km north of Agartala, have also organised a massive protest rally Wednesday and submitted a memorandum to the union home minister through the Dasda block development officer in north Tripura.
"All the 36,000 refugees are inhabitants of Mizoram. The Mizo political parties and NGOs are trying to upset the repatriation process by making a new issue of considering 1995 as the cut-off year for the repatriation," Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF) President A. Sawibunga told IANS by phone from north Tripura.
Chidamabarm had visited Tripura refugee camps, held meetings with the refugee leaders, and Mizoram and Tripura government officials at Kanchanpur in northern Tripura Feb 18.
He also held a meeting with Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who had requested Chidambaram to take all steps to repatriate the refugees to their homes in Mizoram.
"The long-awaited repatriation of the Reang refugees had resumed April 12 last year, but the process was stopped as most refugees were unwilling to return to their homes without a written assurance from the Mizoram government," a Tripura government official said in Agartala.
Uncertainty still prevails over whether all the migrants in Tripura would return home, the official added.
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