Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party yesterday demanded troops be withdrawn to barracks in the former rebel heartland of Jaffna after the worst ethnic violence since the end of the nation’s decades-long civil war.
About 20 students were wounded, seven needing hospital treatment, in clashes with security forces at Jaffna University on Wednesday, underscoring the tensions in the region, despite the end of the conflict in May 2009.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) lawmaker for Jaffna district accused security forces of triggering the unrest by storming the university on Tuesday to thwart a planned commemoration for defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam guerrillas.
“Their action provoked a demonstration on Wednesday and then police and the army moved in to break it up,” Eswarapatham Saravanapavan said. “We have always wanted demilitarization of Jaffna. After this incident, what we say is that they must at least confine themselves to their barracks as a first step.”
The vast majority of the students at the university are ethnic Tamils, who make up about 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million population. The military is almost entirely composed of ethnic Sinhalese.
According to the military, the students had been planning an “illegal” commemoration of the Tigers.
However, a military spokesman denied that soldiers had taken anything more than a support role in police action at the university on Tuesday evening when pro-Tiger posters and leaflets were confiscated.