Atleast 21 inmates of Mizoram Reang refugee camp in north Tripura district were killed in a devastating fire on Saturday.
The death toll could be more as search is underway in the debris at Naishingpara camp in Kanchanpur subdivision, 170km northeast of here.
The flames completely
gutted the camp, one of six in the area, in the incident around 11.15am.
The incident that left some one hundred people injured occurred amidst repatriation of the Reangs or Bru refugees in phases to Mizoram.
Deputy inspector general of police (Operation) Nepal Das said the casualties include men, women and children. He could not say immediately say exact cause behind the inferno that destroyed about one thousand huts.
"We are also not sure about source of fire, but it could be from a kitchen", refugee leader Suibanga Bru told newsmen over phone.
Eyewitnesses said the fire immediately gripped the bamboo and plastic shelters mainly due to the dry spell.
16 refugees died on the spot and five succumbed in or on way to the hospitals, a senior north district official said.
The injured have been admitted in five different hospitals in north Tripura district and some who have been critically injured are being sent to Agartala by helicopter for treatment at the G B Pant hospital.
Fire fighting teams could not do much due to shortage of water and equipments.
All senior civil and police officers as well as leaders of the apex body of the evacuees are camping in Naishingpara.
North Tripura district magistrate Soumya Gupta and district superintendent of police are supervising rescue and relief operations.
Naishingpara alone accommodates 14,528 of 34,000 refugees from northeast India's most primitive tribe. They left Mizoram state in October 1997 to escape large scale ethnic violence and alleged persecution by the majority Mizos.
After years of efforts, negotiations and interventions at different level the Mizoram government conceded to arrange return of the evacuees in December last, but the repatriation has been extremely slow as Mizoram authorities despite objections are carrying out complicated verification process to ascertain citizenship status of the refugee families.
Last year on March 15, about 1800 people became homeless after fire razed entire Reang refugee camp at Hamshapara, near Naishingpara.
Latest reports said forensic experts have reached the spot to investigate certain aspects including a possible conspiracy angle at Naishingpara.
Officials said the homeless people have been given shelter in school and government office building in close by areas.
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