- Eric Silver reporting from Mannar, Guardian, 9 January 1985
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 Savundranayagam.
"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 houses."
"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 square."
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 promises.
- Shots fired & S.F. take position around the promises.
- S.F. enter the rear veranda of the priestss 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 & Nathan.
- Shots are fired through the windows of the parlour room from the rear veranda.
Fr.Bastian pleads please, please.
- 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
- Nathan is taken back to the parlour & shot dead.
- 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 Convent.
- 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 driven away.
- Cans of kerosene found in the rear veranda are poured on the blood stains found in the
- 5 am: - curfew being lifted, the nuns who were awake from midnight, are seen near the
gate of their Convent.
- The nuns & girls residing with them are lead into the Church by the S.F. through the
door under the Portico.
- 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 the Monstrance.
- Vehicles move into the Church promises upto the rear gate.
- About 7.30 am: vehicles move out.
- About 11 am: nine bodies are produced to the Mannar Hospital Mortuary.
- Fr.Bastian's body 'mysteriously vanishes.
The Killing of a Tamil Catholic Priest
Tamil Information Monthly, 15 March 1985
It was the night of Saturday 5th January 1985.
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 good
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 electric light.
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 room.
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
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
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
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 the operation.
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
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 parish
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 premises.
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 inquiry.
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 identified were:
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 terrorist
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..."