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Reangs pour into Tripura

Agartala, Jan. 20: Reangs, it appears, may never know peace.

Over 2,400 terrorised men, women and children crossed over from Mizoram last night and spilled to four villagers bordering Tripura, hounded out of their homes where they had been repatriated only months ago.

“Over 2,423 men, women and children comprising 368 families took shelter in four villages in Tripura bordering Mizoram late last evening,” a Tripura relief department official said.

The immediate trigger seems to be an age-old weapon: threats and intimidation.

“Top officials and high-ranking police officers have rushed to the areas and officials from the Mizoram government are expected to come to persuade the refugees to return to their villages.”

Tension gripped Reang-dominated villages in Mamit district of western Mizoram in the wake of the abduction of three persons on November 23 by NLFT militants allegedly with the help of suspected Reang militants. A Calcutta-based telecom professional and two Mizoram-based drivers of private vehicles were abducted.

While the two drivers were released, the telecom professional, Deep Mandal, is still being held captive somewhere in Bangladesh, sources said.

“Within 24 hours after the abduction, Mizo students and youths began a mass voluntary search operation to rescue the kidnapped persons. Several NGOs had fixed January 15 as the deadline to secure release of the hostages. The Reang families apparently feared a repeat of the 1997 ethnic violence and fled,” Elvis Chorkhy, a leader of the refugees said over phone from Kanchanpur.

The fresh influx of Reangs took place yesterday after over 250 Reangs, who had entered Tripura from nearby western Mizoram last week, returned home after Tripura and Mizoram government officials persuaded them to do so.

More than 36,000 Reang refugees, also known as Brus, have been staying in seven makeshift camps in Kanchanpur subdivision of North Tripura for the past 17 years from October 15, 1997 after fleeing their villages in Mizoram following ethnic trouble with majority Mizos.

Around 5,000 refugees have returned home in the last three years following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and Union home ministry officials. The process got stalled after that.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his predecessor P. Chidambaram in Delhi on several occasions and requested their intervention to ensure safe return of the refugees.

Sarkar, who also holds the home portfolio, told Singh and Shinde that continuous presence — for over 17 years — of refugees from Mizoram has been a matter of concern for Tripura.

The refugees have been insisting that without a formal agreement between the Centre, the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura and refugee leaders, their homecoming will remain uncertain.