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[BOGOTÁ] Colombian researchers have expressed concern about security at public universities amid rising reports of death threats and violence.

In recent weeks, a mathematician was assassinated and a geneticist went into exile.

Moisés Wasserman, president of the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, says it is not the first time it has happened but that little is known about the current threats.

The university is organising a campaign to express anger at the situation.

According to the Colombian Association of University Students, in 2004 and 2005 there were dozens of cases of threats, violence and attempted kidnappings against university staff and students, as well as three murders.

The association blames paramilitary groups, which it says have infiltrated state university campuses.

The problem has existed for many years but appears to be getting worse.

Geneticist Hugo Vega fled the country this month after receiving repeated death threats that accused him of being part of a guerrilla group. Other members of his research group at the National University were also threatened, leading them to disband in April.

In June, mathematics professor Gustavo Loaiza from the University of Antioquia in Medellín was murdered.

Sergio Caramagna, head of the Organization of American States (OAS) mission in support of the Colombian peace process says his office has received information about threats in public universities in Antioquia, Bogotá, Nariño and North Santander.

Caramagna told SciDev.Net that he has asked OAS's regional delegates to investigate, although he concedes that the investigation will depend on the openness of the people affected, and access to their testimonies.

No matter where they come from, the threats are to be condemned, he added.

Vega told SciDev.Net that the threats he received came in response to his team's success at publishing a study in the high-profile journal Nature Genetics in April 2005. 

He believes that one of his colleagues paid a paramilitary group to force him "out of my job, my research group and my country, under the pretext that I am a member of a guerrilla group".