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News: From SCI: Refugees fear repatriation from India

UPn  08/03 1149  Refugees fear repatriation from India

   CALCUTTA, India, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- The leader of a tribal refugee
community in India called for a halt Wednesday to further repatriation of
his people to their homes in Bangladesh.
   Upendra Lal, leader of the refugees, alleged New Delhi was using force
to send the Chakmas tribal people living in northeastern India to their
occupied homeland in Bangladesh.
   Bangladeshi troops moved into the region in the 1980s, triggering a mass
exodus of the Buddhist Chakmas.
   Lal said his people still face a threat from Bangladesh authorities and
demanded the end to the forced repatriation of the tribesmen.
   At a seminar in Calcutta, Lal called for a permanent and peaceful
solution to unrest in the Chakmas homeland before his people would return
   The repatriation of the Chakmas -- 56,000 of whom have lived in Tripura,
India, since the 1980s -- began last February after assurances from both
New Delhi and Dhaka that they would face no danger.
   "There is absolutely no pressure," Tripura Governor Romesh Bhandari said
of the repatriation program. "They are returning on their own."
   Lal, who played a key role in the repatriation negotiations, said he now
feels cheated by both the countries.
   The refugee leader has alleged that while Bangladesh authorities had
failed to return land to his people, those still living in India were
without enough food.
   During negotiations, Lal had demanded United Nations supervision for the
repatriation, which he said could only begin after the withdrawal of
Bangladeshi army troops from their homeland.
   In a letter to the U.N. secretary-general last year, Lal said, "The
refugees will surely be victims of killings, torture and rape if they are
   India and Bangladesh, however, carried on prolonged negotiations to
persuade Chakma refugees to return to their homeland.
   The Chakmas have for a number of years been demanding the withdrawal of
army troops, an end to the population-transfer program and the deportation
of Muslim settlers from the region.
   Until the partition of British India in 1947, the Chittagong Hills were
inhabited almost entirely by tribesmen. Now the native people account for
less than 60 percent of the region's population of 1 million.
   Last year, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International
criticized the Bangladesh military for widespread human rights abuses,
including arbitrary shootings in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

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