The number of attacks on foreign language students in Eastbourne has increased despite a police operation to tackle the problem.

Police are calling for closer links with language schools and council bosses in the light of the figures.

The county-wide Operation Columbus was set up after a series of incidents involving the thousands of foreign visitors staying in the area each year.

The operation has proved successful in the past but in Eastbourne this year things are different. Inspector Tim Mottram said: "There has been a rise this year, which I am very disappointed about.

"It's all very well having an operation but you need the officers to enforce it. I just think a lot of it is down to us having a year where we lost a lot of officers to other operations."

Police from across East Sussex are to meet later this month to discuss the future of Operation Columbus and its results over the past nine months.

Between January 1 and September 30 there were 171 incidents involving attacks on foreign students in East Sussex.

There were 33 robberies, 27 assaults, 71 thefts, 16 sexual offences and 24 other crimes.

During the same period last year there were 111 reported crimes against students, although the way the figures are collated has changed since then to take in a wider range of incidents.

Mr Mottram said: "I think in 2001 we need to work closer with the local council and the language schools. "Very often it's left to us to just get on with it. We need to rethink our strategy for next year."

More than 30,000 international students visited East Sussex this summer.

Sargeant Kevin Wallace of Eastbourne Police said: "Although robberies are up, other crimes are down so the initiative is showing results.

"The chances of becoming a victim are still slim, considering the number of students we have visiting the area. But we will continue to monitor the situation and work on improvements."

Operation Columbus has been running for three years. Throughout the year officers meet with the Student Advisory Committee to discuss its effectiveness and how better results could be achieved.