Refugees from Mizoram to vote through postal ballot

April 11th, 2009 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram Aizawl, April 11 (IANS) About 11,500 Reang tribal refugees from Mizoram, sheltered in camps in Tripura would cast their votes through postal ballot for the Mizoram parliamentary seat next week, officials said here Saturday. So would militants who have surrendered and are living in camps in southern Mizoram.
The election to the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram is scheduled Thursday.

According to an election commission notification, all voters among the Reang refugees and surrendered extremists in the camps in north Tripura and Mizoram could vote through postal ballot in their respective camps April 14 and 15.

“One Postal Ballot Facilitation Centre (PBFC) would be set up in each camp and officials posted in these centres would assist the tribal voters to cast their votes through postal ballot between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday,” Mizoram joint chief electoral officer Lalhmingthanga told IANS.

About 35,000 Reang - also called Bru - tribal refugees are sheltered in six north Tripura camps for the past 12 years following ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos, while over 2,500 surrendered militants along with their family members have been staying in two camps in Mamit district of southern Mizoram.

Recognised as a primitive tribe, the Reang constitute about 10 percent of Mizoram’s one million population. Clashes with the Mizos in October 1997 forced them to flee to Tripura and other places.

Militant outfits Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) and the Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM) had risen to fight for setting up an autonomous council in Mizoram for the Reangs.

After 14 rounds of talks, the Mizoram government and the BNLF signed an agreement in April 2005 to resolve the ethnic crisis, leading to the surrender of about 1,040 militants belonging to the BNLF and BLFM.

About 10,000 refugees have received their Electors Photo Identity Cards. There are about 1,500 voters among the surrendered militants and their families.

“We welcome the Election Commission’s decision and want all the eligible voters to exercise their franchise,” said Elvis Chorkhy, president of the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF), adding that they would support those parties in the election who keep their promises for the betterment of the Reangs.

Four candidates - C.L. Ruala of the Congress, H. Lallungmuana, an independent supported by the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) and Mizoram Peoples Conference (MPC) combine, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) nominee Lalawmpuia Chhangte and independent candidate Rualpawla - are in the fray.

Only Congress leaders have visited the refugee camps seeking votes for their candidate.

Chorkhy alleged that the MNF, during its rule, had conspired to keep more than 8,000 tribal refugees off the voters’ list, depriving them of the right to vote during the December 2008 assembly elections.

Meanwhile, the repatriation of Reang refugees from Tripura to Mizoram hangs in balance with the new Mizoram government yet to take any decision on resolving the ethnic problem.

“Despite repeated appeals, the Mizoram government is yet to take any decision about the long-awaited repatriation of the hapless tribal people,” the MBDPF leaders said.

The MBDPF, in letters last month to Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Tripura Governor Dinesh Nandan Sahaya, explained their misery and requested immediate resettlement of the refugees in Mizoram.

On a number of occasions, the Tripura government has urged the centre to take suitable steps to repatriate the tribal refugees to Mizoram. Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said his state was facing serious socio-economic problems due to the presence of the refugees.

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