Students beat up anti-violence v-c

October 10, 2003

Extra police have been drafted in at a Colombo University after a savage attack by students on its vice-chancellor, who has been at the forefront of efforts to control violence in universities.

Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga ordered the increased police presence after students linked to the extreme-left Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna beat D. S. Epitawatte, vice-chancellor of the Sri Jayawardenapura University, with wooden poles, injuring his back.

He told the Daily News in Sri Lanka: "My own students attacked me. If it were not for the intervention by university employees, I may have been killed."

Students armed with iron bars, clubs and bricks stormed the vice-chancellor's office, destroying a computer unit and burning down the main telephone switchboard.

Professor Epitawatte claimed some attackers were women. Others were members of Buddhist group the Bikkhu Federation, who are opposed to the recent peace deal with the Tamil Tigers and who, he said, were carrying razor knives hidden in their robes.

The attack began after a Sri Lankan television camera crew arrived to interview Professor Epitawatte, who has been trying to quell chronic political violence at the university and arguing with student bodies over delays in issuing scholarships. Student leaders -especially from the JVP-linked Inter University Student Federation -have called for his dismissal.

The students "went berserk" after the arrival of the camera crew, the Daily News reported. They also attacked the three-strong crew, smashing their equipment. The three were later taken to hospital.

The university has since been closed. Six undergraduates have been arrested and police have sent snatch-squads into the countryside to track down 20 others.

In November 2002, a management student was bludgeoned to death, possibly because he refused to join a JVP-related society.

Tertiary education minister Kabir Hashim has ordered the University Grants Commission and the university to conduct an inquiry into the latest incident.

Political tensions at the universities have been high since a peace deal was struck between the government and the Tamil Tigers, with the strongly nationalist JVP being particularly opposed. One Sri Jayawardenapura student has already been killed in the resulting demonstrations.

The protests have also spread to other universities. Sri Lankan television last week reported that 15 students were injured in a clash between two groups at the law faculty of Colombo University. Student union president Ravindra Maduranga claimed Inter University Students Federation activists, armed with clubs, knives and swords, were again involved.

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