STUDENT hostel at the University of Zambia (UNZA) has been burnt by police officers as they fought running battles with the students to quell protests against delayed meal allowances.
Two rooms in the Soweto Hostel were completely burnt in the inferno, which started when officers fired a flare missile that landed on one of the beds in the rooms on the third floor of the building through the window.
A number of students were injured, some of them seriously, as they jumped from the third floor of the building through the window.
A check at the university by the Sunday Times yesterday found some students checking on the damaged building, while officials from an insurance company were assessing the damage.
Nine students were arrested and are currently in Police custody, while another one is nursing serious injuries at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) after jumping from a moving Police vehicle.
University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) vice-president Martin Nundwe said the Police officers acted unprofessionally by breaking into students’ hostels firing teargas canisters in an attempt to fish out students.
“The Police were very unprofessional in their conduct. They agitated the situation because we think they should remain at the Great East Road instead of following students in their hostel,” Mr Nundwe said.
“Much as I don’t sympathise with students, the Police have caused the damage. We have a number of casualties because as we are taking, one of our students is seriously injured at UTH.”
He said miscommunication between the students and the Bursaries Committee over the meal allowances caused the protest.
Police spokesperson Charity Munganga-Chanda said one of the nine students that were arrested was also admitted to UTH after he tried to jump from the moving Police vehicle.
Ms Chanda said Police were still investigating the cause of the fire but warned that officers would not relent in quashing any form of violent behaviour by the students at the country’s highest learning institution.
“As you know that these students were rioting, they were throwing stones and damaging vehicles and Police wanted to restore order,” said Ms Chanda, who also announced that the other students who were arrested earlier appeared in court on Friday.
“We have arrested nine – eight of those are in Police custody, while the other one is in UTH after he injured himself as he jumped from our moving vehicle.”
UTH spokesperson, Mwenya Mulenga confirmed that the institution had received three casualties from UNZA but two of them had been discharged.
Meanwhile, International Institute of Democracy and Conflict Resolutions (IIDRC) president Tresford Chomba condemned the riotous behaviour by the students.
Mr Chomba said the security wings should identify perpetrators of violence at UNZA and ensure that they were punished accordingly.
He said the university was a place for intellectuals and not thugs who were damaging property for innocent people.
Times of Zambia
picture credit : Zambia police officers run for their lives after UNZA monks ambushed them with stones