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Fate of Mizoram tribal refugees uncertain

india Updated: Dec 16, 2009 15:08 IST
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The much-awaited process of repatriation of 35,000 Reang tribal refugees from Tripura to Mizoram hangs in the balance despite pressure from the Centre, the Tripura government and rights bodies on the Mizoram government to resolve the 12-year-old ethnic crisis.

A fact finding team (FFT) from the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in New Delhi visited Mizoram and Tripura Dec 8-15 to facilitate a resolution to the ethnic conflict between Reang tribals and the majority of Mizos in Mizoram.

The tribal refugees are unwilling to return to their homes in Mizoram until their demands for fool-proof security and sufficient financial assistance are accepted by the Mizoram government.

"The Centre has sanctioned Rs.33 crore to the Mizoram government to rehabilitate the tribal refugees," an official in Aizawl said Tuesday.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla said: "A 'road map' for the repatriation of tribal refugees from Tripura has been prepared and it was approved by the union home ministry."

"Bipartite and tripartite meetings for the repatriation of the genuine citizens of Mizoram were held on a number of occasions. The state government has always agreed to bring back the bona-fide refugees of Mizoram and it is now up to them (refugees) to accept it and return home," the chief minister told reporters in Aizawl Tuesday.

Over 35,000 Reang tribal refugees have been sheltered in six north Tripura camps since 1997 after they fled Mizoram following ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos.

The tribal refugees' repatriation from Tripura to Mizoram has recently become complicated with violent mobs in western Mizoram burning down around 700 houses of Reang tribals last month following the gunning down of an 18-year-old Mizo youth by unidentified miscreants.

Following the arson and violence, thousands of displaced Reang tribals have taken shelter afresh in adjacent southern Assam and northern Tripura.

ACHR director and leader of the fact finding team Suhas Chakma told reporters in Agartala Tuesday that they would impress upon the Centre to call a high-level meeting involving the chief ministers of Mizoram and Tripura and Reang tribal leaders immediately to resolve the ethnic problem at the earliest.

"The recent influx of the tribals is another reminder to the Centre, Mizoram and Tripura governments and the Mizo and Reang tribal community organisations that unless sincerity is shown by all the parties, the ethnic problem could have serious implications. The time has come for all the actors to re-engage in dialogue with sincerity," Chakma added.

The Centre and Tripura governments have asked Mizoram to resolve the 12-year-old deadlock on the repatriation of Reang refugees to the state.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar recently held a meeting with union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi and discussed ways to resolve the deadlock on the repatriation of 35,000 Reang refugees to Mizoram and a fresh exodus into Tripura following the recent ethnic violence.

An inconclusive tripartite meeting was held in Aizawl last month between representatives of the central and Mizoram governments and tribal refugees to resolve the deadlock.

"Both the centre and the Mizoram government rejected our major demands. We will not return to our homes unless our vital demands are fulfilled," said refugee leader Elvis Chorkhy, who led the seven-member refugee delegation at the tripartite meeting.

"The Mizoram government's package for the home-bound refugees suggested a Rs.20,000 cash grant instead of Rs.50,000 as promised earlier. The package also recommended a scattered resettlement of the 35,000 tribal refugees in three different districts of Mizoram - Mamit, Kolashib and Lunglei. We want compact rehabilitation of the tribals in two districts in western Mizoram," Chorkhy told IANS.

The Reang tribals also want deployment of the central paramilitary forces in the proposed resettlement and Reang tribal-dominated areas instead of the state security force to prevent further violence. The demand too was rejected by both the Centre and the Mizoram government.