Chidambaram asks refugees in Tripura to return to Mizoram

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram Saturday said the central and Mizoram governments would make efforts for the return of 37,000 Mizoram tribal refugees from six north Tripura camps, where they have been living for 15 years.

"I told the tribal refugees that life in the refugee camps has no meaning. Their future and their long term interest lies at their homes in Mizoram. We must do everything for resolving the problems they have been facing," Chidambaram told reporters after holding a meeting with Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.

The home minister visited the refugees camps, held meetings with the refugee leaders, Mizoram and Tripura government officials at Kanchanpur in northern Tripura, before holding a meeting with Sarkar here.

"The ministry of DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) had already announced a package for the development of the Reang tribal dominated areas in Mizoram. The home ministry is also separately providing financial assistance for resettlement and rehabilitation of the tribals," Chidambaram said.

The DoNER package included development of roads, connectivity, setting up of schools and health centres.

"The refugees and their leaders want a written assurance from the Mizoram government about their resettlement and rehabilitation in their villages. I assure them, I would go to Mizoram next month and resolve the issues," said the home minister.

"The repatriation process of remaining 37,000 tribal refugees of around 6,000 families is on. Last year 790 refugee families had gone back to Mizoram," he added.

The home minister visited the refugee camps, 190 km north of Agartala, where about 37,000 inmates, including 6,000 children, have been lodged.

Home ministry's Joint Secretary Sambhu Singh held a series of meetings Friday and Saturday with Tripura and Mizoram government officials.

Mizoram officials, led by Home Secretary K. Riachho, said at the meetings that the state government was ready to take back all the Reang tribal refugees if the 83 Mizo families, who according to them had been evicted by the Reangs from north Tripura in 1983, were provided rehabilitation.

Though the Tripura government officials opposed the Mizoram government's allegation, the home ministry officials agreed to provide financial support to the Mizo families.

Following ethnic tensions sparked by the 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.

After a series of meetings, a total of 701 tribal families-comprising about 3,585 men, women and children-were sent back last year.

The home ministry last year broadened the economic package for home-bound refugees following mediation by the New Delhi-based rights group Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).

"Apart from Rs.80,000 assistance to each refugee family and free ration for one year, the home ministry will support self-employment schemes to be initiated by the Reang tribals," ACHR director Suhas Chakma told IANS on phone from New Delhi.

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