Eyewitness: Terror stalks Colombia's university campuses

June 15, 2001

Terrorists are targeting Colombia's public universities in the conflict between leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries.

Last month, car bombs near Bogotá's Universidad Nacional de Colombia killed four people and injured 30. The university was later evacuated after further bomb scares.

Also last month, the vice-rector of the Universidad del Magdalena in Santa Marta was murdered in a presumed extra-judicial execution for refusing to comply with extremist demands. A professor at the nearby Universidad Popular del César in Valledupar was killed 24 hours earlier.

In the past two-and-a-half years 25 professors, students and administrative staff have been murdered.

The Colombian universities' association has reported rising numbers of students requesting transfers or fleeing the country as a result of threats.

Fernando Jordan Flórez, a former dean at Bogotá's Universidad Piloto de Colombia, said that guerrillas and paramilitaries were contending for ideological control of students.

"The less well-off attend public universities since they cannot afford private ones. Having already been 'corroded' by social injustices, they are seen as fair game for political indoctrination."

Malcolm Deas, a fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, who has lectured in numerous Colombian public and private universities since the 1960s, said:

"The heightened atmosphere of violent threats, though it reflects the creeping political polarisation that is part of Colombia's internal conflict, should not be seen in simple political terms, with a university on the left menaced by extremist threats from the right.

"Extreme groups of right and left have their eye on tapping the considerable resources of the universities, greatly expanded in recent decades - the annual budget of the Universidad Metropolitana del Atlántico in Barranquilla is $100 million.

"In some cases, violence on these campuses has been bred by internal corruption and is less political than it is made to appear. Alleged political motives may be just a cover."

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