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Cops on trail of tea tribe leader’s killers

Nagaon, Jan. 18: Tea tribe leader Niranjan Patra, who was shot dead last night, is suspected to have been killed for money by a group of goons known to him.

Patra, a former general secretary of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha’s central committee and secretary of its Nagaon unit at the time of his death, was shot dead by two gunmen inside his house at Sekoni tea estate.

An hour after the incident, National Socialist Council of Adivasis (NSCA), a hitherto unknown outfit, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Nagaon superintendent of police Bibekraj Singh said preliminary investigations had revealed that the youths who killed Patra were known to the victim. “We have specific information and hope to arrest the culprits soon,” he added.

The SP said three Adivasi youths of Patra’s locality had floated an outfit, Adivasi Tribal Force, last year to launch an extortion drive. Soon after, they were arrested and after about three months, released on bail. Subsequently, they are suspected to have floated the NSCA. “It would be better to call them miscreants and not militants. The motive behind the killing could be money or any other reason, which we hope will come to light after talking to the family. The group might have taken up its old mission of extortion and could have a link with the new development,” Singh said.

Sekoni tea estate under Samaguri police station is 45km from the district headquarters of Nagaon. It is located along the Nagaon-Karbi Anglong district boundary, an area where the militant Karbi Peoples Liberation Tigers (KPLT) is active.

Reangs return home

Altogether 253 people belonging to the Reang community, who had fled to Tripura from Mamit district in Mizoram earlier this week, have returned home, according to the relief and rehabilitation department of the Tripura government, reports our special correspondent from Agartala.

“Officials of the Mizoram government assured the panic-stricken people that security would be provided in their villages. Subsequently, all 253 Reangs returned to their villages in western Mizoram,” a Tripura official said today. Around 10 Reang families had fled to North Tripura last Monday after fresh clashes broke out with Mizos.

North Tripura district magistrate Prashant Kumar Goel said officials had rushed to Kanchanpur, which is around 195km from here, along the inter-state border.

Mizoram officials also went to the areas where the refugees had taken shelter, he added.

“Officials of both the states persuaded the refugees to return.” Goel said he had talked to his Mamit district counterpart and requested him to take appropriate steps to take the people back to the villages of Damdiai, Tumpanglui and New Eden.

Tension has been prevailing in Reang villages in Mamit district after the abduction of three persons on November 23 last year by suspected NLFT militants.

Of the three, one is a Calcutta-based telecom professional (still in custody) and the other two were Mizo drivers, who were released on Wednesday.

the students’ union Mizo Zirlai Pawl began voluntary search operations for the abducted persons, Reang families, fearing a repeat of the 1997 ethnic violence, fled their villages,” a refugee leader Elvis Chorkhy said. Over 36,000 refugees are living in seven makeshift camps in northern Tripura for the last 17 years after fleeing their villages following clashes with Mizos.

Nearly 5,000 refugees have returned in the past three years following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and Union home ministry officials but the process has got stalled.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar has met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his predecessor P. Chidambaram in New Delhi a number of times and sought their intervention to ensure the safe return of the refugees.

“Their stay in Tripura brings its own socio-economic and law and order problems. The state government is providing necessary support for early repatriation of these families. However, the process has been extremely slow,” Sarkar said. The refugees have been insisting that without a formal agreement between the Centre, both the state governments and the tribal leaders, their return and subsequent rehabilitation would remain uncertain.

The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum president A. Sawibunga said over phone today: “We have been demanding adequate safety and security for the returning refugees, free ration for two years and Rs 1.5 lakh as assistance to construct houses and restart cultivation and allotment of land to the returnees.”