COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Right-wing vigilantes raided a university residential complex Thursday and shot dead or beheaded 14 workers they believed helped engineer the murder of a university official by leftist Sinhalese rebels, police said.
The massacre occurred at Peradeniya University in the Central Province hill town of Kandy, 60 miles northeast of Colombo, Premadasa Udugampola, the area's deputy inspector-general of police, said in a telephone interview.
The incident came a day after two rebels of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), or People's Liberation Front, shot dead T.E. Nagahawatte, an assistant registrar of the university and a captain in a local unit of an army volunteer reserve force.
Nagahawatte was killed as he was climbing into his car Wednesday afternoon to go home for lunch.
Before dawn Thursday, an unknown number of gunmen burst into a university residential complex for custodial and clerical staff, rounded up 14 workers and took them away, Udugampola said.
Six of the workers were beheaded and their heads placed around a small pond on the university grounds. The remainder were shot dead, Udugampola said.
Police later received a message from the vigilantes, calling themselves The Eagles of Central Hills. They took responsibility for the massacre and claimed the 14 were JVP supporters who helped engineer Nagahawatte's murder, Udugampola said.
'This is in retaliation for the killing of the assistant registrar,' said Udugampola. 'The Eagles of the Central Hills claimed that the 14 who were killed ... masterminded the killing of the assistant registrar.'
The vigilante group has been active only since last month and on a single day -- Sept. 26 -- killed more than 300 suspected members and supporters of the JVP in revenge for the slayings of relatives of security force personnel.
It is one of a number of death squads that are operating against the JVP with the government's tacit approval and are believed to comprise off-duty police and army officers and supporters of the ruling United National Party.
Human rights activists, a number of whom have also been murdered by vigilantes, claim many of their victims are innocent.
The massacre in Kandy came as security forces pressed a massive crackdown against the JVP, which is pursuing a 2-year-old campaign of murder, sabotage and strikes aimed at toppling the government and installing a Marxist-style authoritarian regime.
Udugampola said some 1,550 suspects had been taken into custody since Tuesday in ongoing sweeps in south, central and western Sri Lanka and that after questioning, those cleared of links to the JVP would be released.
The crackdown began after President Ranasinghe Premadasa declined to extend a six-day unilateral suspension in offensive operations against the JVP when the rebels rejected his call for them to renounce violence and return to democratic politics.
The radicals, whose members are mostly students and unemployed youths of the ethnic Sinhalese majority, have virtually paralyzed the island's economy and public administration. More than 4,000 people have died this year in violence related to the insurgency.
The JVP's growth is partly due to widespread Sinhalese resentment over the presence of Indian troops in the country's northeast, home to most of the island's ethnic Tamil minority and the scene of a war by Tamil separatists.
The Indians were deployed to enforce a July 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord promising greater self-rule to the province.