Killings sowing fear, stifling expression on Colombia campuses

MONTERIA, Colombia - Escalating campus violence, including the assassinations of several professors, is turning Colombia's universities into battlegrounds.

The latest victim was Hugo Iguaran, an outspoken professor killed Sept. 10 during a meeting at the home of the rector of the University of Cordoba, located in this northern city.

In just over a year, five professors in Colombia have been killed and others have been attacked or kidnapped.

''There is a climate here of fear, of anxiety, of distrust,'' said industrial science professor Hery Castillo, president of the University of Cordoba teachers' association. ''Everybody watches themselves, takes special care in what they say.''

Castillo spoke in hushed tones, warily eyeing two colleagues in the teachers' lounge. The two looked up periodically from their newspapers, then stared back downward when Castillo caught their eyes.

As a 36-year armed conflict escalates between leftist guerrillas, a rival right-wing paramilitary group and the U.S.-backed military, bloodshed is increasingly spilling over onto university campuses in this South American country.

On Friday, the National University in the capital commemorated the first anniversary of the assassination of Jesus Bejarano, an economics professor and former government peace envoy who sharply criticized all sides in the country's war. His colleagues are so shaken, they don't dare speculate publicly on who may have killed him.

Months after Bejarano was shot dead on the downtown Bogota campus, motorcycle gunmen shot and wounded a National University political scientist who later fled to the United States.

Threats or assassination attempts have forced other scholars to leave Colombia, as well as journalists and human rights workers.

''Violence is sweeping the country, and the universities cannot escape that,'' said National University rector Victor Manuel Moncayo.

Moncayo staged a referendum last week in which students voted overwhelmingly for more peaceful campus debate and an end to violent protests that have stained the university's image. The referendum was held after demonstrations against President Clinton's visit to Colombia on Aug. 30 turned violent, and a policeman was killed by a homemade grenade.

Following the assassination of Iguaran, the University of Cordoba was closed last week. Rows of barracks-style classrooms, shaded by palm and banana trees, stood silent.

Iguaran, 55, a farm sciences teacher, had been a candidate for university rector in violence-marred elections last month. He had publicly accused administrators of stealing funds, and said top posts at the public university were handed out as political favors.

He was meeting with Victor Hernandez, who won the elections for rector, and other university officials in Hernandez's off-campus residence when two men burst into the home and shot Iguaran dead.

There have been no arrests. No group has claimed responsibility.

Iguaran, the second professor at the University of Cordoba to be killed this year, had survived an assassination attempt in May. Motorcycle gunmen assassinated social sciences Prof. Antonio Perez in April on a Monteria street.

The area surrounding Monteria is a stronghold of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary group, which has threatened leftists on the campus.

In April, paramilitary fighters stopped a bus carrying 40 university students to a peace conference and kidnapped two of them. The students were freed three weeks later and given a communique declaring the paramilitary group had infiltrated the campus and would be taking retribution against suspected guerrilla ''agitators and militants.''

Iguaran was the sixth University of Cordoba professor assassinated since the mid-1980s, Castillo said.

Teachers with outspoken leftist views are not heard anymore because ''they've all been buried,'' Castillo said.

Hernandez, the new university rector, pledged to promote a spirit of tolerance on campus - but he is not taking any chances.

Before the shooting, Hernandez had one bodyguard. Now he has three.


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