Threat of war leads to campus violence

July 21, 2006

A university in northern Sri Lanka is struggling to cope with the gradual breakdown over the past six months in the ceasefire between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Jaffna University has experienced an increase in violence, and attendance at lectures has been affected. The university was temporarily closed last December after Tamil students and academics from the university clashed with the Sri Lankan Army when it tried to prevent an LTTE-inspired student procession.

The LTTE backed a campaign against the appointment of new vice-chancellor Ratnajeevan Hoole when his predecessor's term of office expired, eventually forcing him to take long leave.

In May, the university was shut for two weeks during a strike in Jaffna.

The presence of the military, although not on campus, has affected students.

Some 40 Muslim medical students and seven law undergraduates at Jaffna have persuaded the University Grants Commission to transfer them to other universities because of the risk posed to their security.

Officials say the biggest impediment to academic work is the poor attendance of students who travel in.

"People are wary of renting out rooms to young boys as the house owners also fall into trouble when these boys are suspected of involvement in various activities," one academic said, adding that a complete breakdown in the ceasefire would hit fuel supplies and public transport, further affecting attendance.

Worse could well come, especially if the low-intensity conflict gives way to full-scale war, with the LTTE bent on wresting control of Jaffna. In 2000, the Tigers shelled the town, including the university, after taking over a strategic military base.

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