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Protest at Jaffna University as authorities destroy Mullivaikkal memorial

Dozens of Tamils staged a demonstration outside the University of Jaffna into the early hours of the morning, as armed Sri Lankan troops have blocked off the entrance to the campus after authorities bulldozed a memorial monument.

At least two Tamil students have been arrested so far, as the security forces rushed to the scene and crowds grew.

The protestors were calling for the Vice Chancellor of the university to come outside and meet them, as heavy machinery was seen toppling a monument dedicated to the tens of thousands of Tamils killed by the Sri Lankan state during the Mullivaikkal massacres.

Despite the intimidation and heavy presence of Sri Lanka's notorious STF, protesters persistent demanding to speak to the VC. They continue to chant, “We need to speak, we need to speak with the VC” and “Come outside, come outside, please come outside”. 

Protesters were chanting “military inside, students outside”, “don’t sell, don’t sell, don’t sell Tamil Eelam”  and “don’t break, don’t break, don’t break the memorial monument”.

A bulldozer under the cover of night

At approximately 8.45pm, reports broke out of a bulldozer inside the university campus destroying the Mullivaikkal monument.

The memorial, unveiled in 2019, was designed and constructed by locals, including those who had lost family to the massacres of 2009. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed during the Sri Lankan military offensive, led by the Rajapaksas.

The memorial pictured in 2019.

Students had initially gathered at the gates of university campus but feared entering amidst reports that Sri Lankan soldiers may also be present. As news of the destruction spread, crowds began to gather including the newly elected Mayor of Jaffna.

Sri Lankan police officers who had been deployed to the scene berated the Mayor of Jaffna in Sinhala, ordering him away from the scene.

As the Sri Lankan military presence began to increase, the students expressed concerns about other memorials inside the campus, including the Pongu Thamil commemoration board and a central monument commemorating lives lost in the Tamil liberation struggle.

Assaults and arrests

As the crowd outside the campus grew, Sri Lanka's notorious Special Task Force officers were deployed to the scene. The crowd gathered outside began to demand the university's Vice Chancellor come out and explain why the destruction of the monument was allowed.

"We need to speak, we need to speak with the VC”, crowds chanted. “Come outside, come outside, please come outside” and “Don’t commit race betrayal.”

Footage from this evening shows journalists covering the destruction of the memorial being assaulted by Sri Lankan police and plainclothes intelligence personnel.

Sri Lankan security forces meanwhile arrested at least two students.

 'We will deal with them'

The Jaffna University Vice Chancellor responded to the growing demonstration by claiming the memorial must be taken down and slammed the protest at the gates.

“We cannot keep these," he said, referring to the monuments. Speaking on the protest he went on to say "they have come because they are over-enthusiastic".

"It is illegal for them to threaten us. If they do not go by themselves we will deal with them.”

Speaking to reporters, a former student of the university and the first President of the Law Students Union explained the complicity of the university administration and the intimidation they faced at the hands of the Sri Lankan police.

"When we went inside the university, one memorial statue of Mullivaikal had already been destroyed. They were planning to take the debris away. I and a few students staged a sit-in obstructing their path. The management including a registrar and another administrative official gave the go-ahead to take away the remains.

Then some police arrived and intimidating us harshly. They threatened to arrest me and the students. They compelled us to vacate the premises. I left along with the students.

We congregated outside in protest. Two JCB vehicles were still inside. They wanted to tear down the second statue which depicts the carnage of civilians who perished in the Mullivaikal Massacre. Due to our fulmination, it has been temporarily halted. But it may be demolished anytime".

He further stated that he plans to convene with the Student Union to discuss how to move forwards.

 Jaffna University's former Head of Law, Dr K. Guruparan has expressed concern over these developments explaining that the previous VC was fired from his position for his refusal to destroy the monument.

As the protest continued Canadian politicians were amongst those to condemn the destruction of the memorial.

As of 2.30 am local time, demonstrators continued to chant outside the university campus gates, calling for the military to leave.

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