- Eric Silver reporting from Mannar, Guardian, 9
"The Church is
living under siege. Two weeks ago a village priest was
one of ten people killed by the army on church
premises. His body was never found. The government
claimed this week that no witnesses had come forward to
testify to his death, but this was contested yesterday
by the Bishop of Mannar, Dr.Thomas
"On December 18 and 24 (1984)" he insisted, "CID
officers came to Mannar. We produced six witnesses and
their statements were recorded in the police
When I asked if I could meet one of them, the Bishop
replied:" Now they have gone back to their villages.
They are scared. Now the security know their names and
The Church it seems cannot protect them. "What can
we do to protect them?" the Bishop asked. "We can do
nothing to protect ourselves. We live in fear and
trembling. We don't feel safe even in our mission
"One of my priests was killed in the presbytery.
Another was brought here in secret by his parishoners
after soldiers had gone to his church three days in
succession asking where he was."
As a reminder of how well founded are Mannar's
fears, dozens of shops burned by the Army last August
still stand charred and empty in the market
Mid night murder of Rev. Father Bastian
eye witness account - 5 January 1985
5 January 1985
- 6pm: Curfew begins. Fr.M.Mary Bastian is in
the Priest's House (Presbytery) in Vankalai (near
Mannar) with an orphan boy, Alagaratnam and a helper,
- About midnight (6.1.1985): convoy of vehicles
move towards village (Vankalai) and stop at the
entrance of the Church.
- Security Forces (S.F.) on foot - enter the church
- Shots fired & S.F. take position around the
- S.F. enter the rear veranda of the priests's
house through the rear gate.
- S.F. knock at the door calling for Fr.Bastian.
Fr.Bastian, in his cassock, enters the parlour with
rosary in hand along with Alagaratnam &
- Shots are fired through the windows of the
parlour room from the rear veranda. Fr.Bastian pleads
- Fr.Bastian is shot along with Alagaratnem and
falls crying Amma(mother).
- S.F. force open the parlour door on the rear
veranda. Fr.Bastian lies shot dead.
- Nathan is lead out to other buildings along the
parapet wall - the generator & store rooms.
- Nathan is taken back to the parlour & shot
- S.F. fire shots in and around church premises - a
72 year old woman is killed.
- About 4 am: Fr.Bastian's body is dragged out
through the rear gate & deposited on the steps of
the Girls' School (old building) close to the
- Only the bodies of Alageratnam & Nathan are
found in the parlour.
- Some articles are placed around the dead body of
Fr.Bastian and photographed.
- Bodies of Alagaratnam & Nathan are removed
from parlour by S.F.
- About 5 am: Fr.Bastian's body is carried by
three men in uniform & placed in a mini-van and
- Cans of kerosene found in the rear veranda are
poured on the blood stains found in the parlour.
- 5 am: - curfew being lifted, the nuns who were
awake from midnight, are seen near the gate of their
- The nuns & girls residing with them are lead
into the Church by the S.F. through the door under
- Some villagers who had taken shelter for the
night in the old Girls' school are led into the
Church. They notice blood stains on the steps.
- S.F. ransack the entire Convent, removing
wrist watches cash & other articles - S.F. open
the Tabernacle in the Convent chapel and meddle with
- Vehicles move into the Church promises upto the
- About 7.30 am: vehicles move out.
- About 11 am: nine bodies are produced to the
Mannar Hospital Mortuary.
- Fr.Bastian's body 'mysteriously
The Killing of a Tamil Catholic Priest
Tamil Information Monthly, 15 March 1985
It was the night of Saturday 5th January 1985.
Past midnight a convoy
of vehicles came along the Mannar - Nanattan road.
approaching Vankalai. The vehicles stopped at a
distance. and army men walked along the main road - but
beside the tarred road - upto the church gate. and
surrounded the church and school premises. There was
Heavy firing started around the girls' school and
the cemetery area. In the meantime some of the soldiers
had walked along the path between the church and girls'
school right down to the side gate of the presbytery
premises and entered the premises. There was no
At hearing the first firing, Father Mary Bastian.
the parish priest had called the boys who were residing
with him and sleeping at that time in the outer room
and verandah (Alagan, Nathan - cook and labourer) into
The security personnel who had entered the premises
by the rear gate advanced up to the verandah and called
'Father'. Father Mary Bastian, - dressed in cassock, -
came out from his bed room to the middle room. Noticing
through the open window the army men poised to shoot,
he had pleaded "Please. Please".The two boys. Nathan
and Alagan, were *ten in the middle room.
In spite of the pleading 'Father Mary Bastian was
shot at through the window ; he collapsed screaming
"Ayo-Amma". The men then forced open 'e door and
entered the middle room and flashing a torch fired at
the two boys Alagan and Nathan. Following this shoting
there was a walkie-talkie radio conversation in
English. Subsequently the priests body was removed out
by the rear gate. carried by give soldiers and
deposited on the steps of the entrance to the girls'
school (old building) and some stood guarding.
On the rear verandah of the presbytery. by the side
of the door, there were four barrels of kerosene for
distribution to the people the following day. After the
removal of the Priests body, one of these drums was
turned down and the kerosene spilt into the middle
room. (In the morning the three spots where the three
had collapsed after being shot, were clearly visible
with spilt-blood mixed with kerosene.)
Firing all around the premises continued. Some of
those who had taken shelter in the girls school for
greater safety at night but had moved about in panic at
the firing. were struck dead.
An old woman. Thangachiamma, seventy-two years old,
who had come running from her home to the church on
hearing the firing. was shot dead.
In the very early hours before dawn there were
conversations, the movement of a van near the school
entrance. the order 'Arang Yanda', and the priest's
body was taken away in the van.
Sometime after 6 a.m. the sisters in the Convent,
who had been indoors the whole night inspite of the
firing and commotion, opened the outer gate of their
Convent. The soldier guarding outside, noticing the
sisters, ordered them to come out. With the sisters the
girls residing with them were also ordered out. With
all of them lined up out-side, the sisters were told
that a search was to be made of the Convent and the
army men entered unaccompanied by any of the inmates,
and ransacked the entire convent and premises. They had
even opened the Tabernacle in the Oratory and
dismantled the monstrance with the Sacred Host.
Wrist-watches, cash and other articles had been
found missing subsequently.
The Sisters and girls were led into the church by
the soldiers by a door under the portico. They were not
allowed to take their normal route to the church.
Except for this door, all other doors and windows of
the church were locked.
Some beggars who had been resting in the church
premises were also *Lit in within the church.
Some people who had taken shelter for the night in
the old girls school were then brought out by the
soldiers and led into the church. These people had
noticed fresh blood-stains on the steps as they walked
out. Some males among them were also included in the
number of those taken away to the camp at the end of
About 7-30 a.m. a lorry moved into the church
compound upto the entrance at the rear; the bodies of
the dead were loaded there and some more in the
The army men trooped in near the gate close to the
main road and all left.
After the forces had left. those who were left in
the church and others from outside saw for themselves
the presbytery and informed the Bishop's House. Mannar,
about the happenings and the disappearance of the
As soon as the message was received at the Bishop's
House. Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam communicated by
phone with the authorities at Thallady army Camp and
inquired about the nocturnal activities at Vankalal. He
was told that there was an operation by the security
forces at Vankalai and that eight dead bodies had been
brought. When questioned about the disappearance of
Father Mary Bastian. parish priest, the reply was that
they knew nothing of the priest and a suggestion was
made that he might have run away.
The Bishop and the Vicar General then went to
Vankalai ; there they met the assembled parishioners
crying and weeping over the death and disappearance of
their pastor. They visited the room, and the spot where
father had been shot with two, of his boys.
The people were then called into the church and the
Bishop had a prayer-service with them. He then
addressed them. When he mentioned during his talk about
his inquiring from the camp and the answer he received,
there was a loud mournful reaction from the people.
Some villagers from among the crowd had mentioned
seeing thick clouds of smoke rising from the direction
of Thallady army camp in the early hours of the
morning. and even gave expression to the suspicion that
Father's body might have been burnt up in the camp
Then the Bishop and the Vicar General inspected the
Convent and interviewed the sisters.
They then met the members of the church committee,
and left for Mannar. When they returned to Mannar, the
Bishop again inquired from the authorities at Thallady
camp about Rev. Father Mary Bastian and mentioned that
he had been told at Vankalai that some persons had seen
the body of Father Mary Bastian being carried away by
the soldiers in a van. The officer had expressed
surprise and assured the Bishop of a discreet
About mid-day nine bodies were produced at the
Mannar Hospital Mortuary. The body of the priest was
not among these. Those of the two boys shot in the
presbytery with Father were identified. Those
Balasubramaniam Alagaratnam (15), Michael Nathan
Croos (27) Soosaiappu Peries Hermon Pieries (19) S.
Quintus Peries (18) Thangachiamma (72) S. Antony
Feldano (24) G. Rufus Croos (22) Dalmeida Thasan
(Jeeva) (28) Santiagu Edirasingham (21)
In the afternoon, the officer from ,Thallady phoned
to the Bishop informing him about a rumour that people
from. Vankalai were preparing to march to the camp and
requesting the Bishop to stop it. The Bishop also
questioned him about the announcement through the mass
media concerning arms and ammunitions found in the
church and the church being used as a terrorist base.
To this the officer replied that these were found in
the school compound and that his soldiers never entered
the church !.
The fact is that Rev. Father Mary Bastian was
brutally murdered. The murder has been well planned.
Attempts had been made to remove traces of evidence.
Stories had been concocted to implicate the church in
The Light of Truth will shine forth even if for a
moment it is obscured ! But the obscuring of the Truth
was what the government set about next.
PITCHED BATTLE AT CHURCH SITE - said the headline in
the government-run Daily News of January 7.
"Eight terrorists were killed", said the report,
"and five captured after a gun battle early yesterday
near a Catholic church at Vankalai in the Mannar
district. the Ministry of State said".
Since there was a "pitched battle", the Ministry of
State had necessarily to make the army discover arms
and ammunition in the "church site". and this the army
obligingly did. The report said: "The soldiers had
later found 56 sticks of dynamite - (this also
incidentally helped to prove that the Sri Lanka
soldiers can count up to a hundred) - a quantity of
spent and live 9 mm ammunition, several spent and live
shotgun catridges, eight hand grenades, terrorist
leaflets, books, cassettes and tapes".
After the "pitched battle" there was not even a
single casualty reported on the government side. The
Ministry knew. surely, of at least one major casualty -
TRUTH - but why bother about that, when even Sinhalese
correspondents of reputed foreign newspapers like the
Times. London, Daily Telegraph, and Guardian. do not
bother to question ?
While the Ministry of State in charge of (Dis)
Information spoke feelingly about the "pitched battle"
(in which 72-year old woman Thangachiamma also died)
the Minister of National (In) Security Latith
Athulathmudali suggested that Father Mary Bastian had
presumably beaten his naval blockade and crossed over
to India Apparently his soul flew away across the
waters while the army burnt his mortal frame!
- Letter dated 9 January 1985 from Rev.Dr.Thomas
Savundranayagam to Sri Lanka Presient
"We would like to place before your Excellency that
Rev. Father Mary Bastian who is well known to many
people, priests and Bishops in this country, was
murdered by the armed forces in his mission house at
Vankalai on the 6th. of this mouth.
After the death of the Methodist Priest Rev.
George Jeyrajasingham, this is the second priest victim
in Mannar to be murdered within a month by the security
forces. This fact of killing priests by the armed
forces has caused a great deal of anxiety in the lives,
of all priests and people. In both cases it is well
known beyond my doubt that the deaths were caused by
the security forces.
The priests were killed and attempts made to destroy
evidence to give the impression that the armed forces
did not have any hand in the murder. Father Bastian was
shot dead in his room and his body was removed by the
armed forces and taken away in a van...
We are afraid that these brutal acts may be repeated
to any one, of my priests and even to me and our
security is at stake. My priests are very such
disturbed and are living in mortal fear of their lives
and are in a state of despair. As Bishop of Mannar, I
feel utterly helpless to provide protection to my
priests, whose aim is to serve God and man by way of
love justice and peace..."