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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA

SINHALA ARMY MURDERS
CHRISTIAN PRIESTS - 1984/85

  • Eric Silver reporting from Mannar, Guardian, 9 January 1985

"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 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 station."

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 addresses."

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

  1.  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, Nathan Croos.
  2. About midnight (6.1.1985): convoy of vehicles move towards village (Vankalai) and stop at the entrance of the Church.
  3. Security Forces (S.F.) on foot - enter the church promises.
  4. Shots fired & S.F. take position around the promises.
  5. S.F. enter the rear veranda of the priests’s house through the rear gate.
  6. 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.
  7. Shots are fired through the windows of the parlour room from the rear veranda. Fr.Bastian pleads ‘please, please’.
  8. Fr.Bastian is shot along with Alagaratnem and falls crying Amma(mother).
  9. S.F. force open the parlour door on the rear veranda. Fr.Bastian lies shot dead.
  10. Nathan is lead out to other buildings along the parapet wall - the generator & store rooms.
  11. Nathan is taken back to the parlour & shot dead.
  12. S.F. fire shots in and around church premises - a 72 year old woman is killed.
  13. 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.
  14. Only the bodies of Alageratnam & Nathan are found in the parlour.
  15. Some articles are placed around the dead body of Fr.Bastian and photographed.
  16. Bodies of Alagaratnam & Nathan are removed from parlour by S.F.
  17. About 5 am: Fr.Bastian's body is carried by three men in uniform & placed in a mini-van and driven away.
  18. Cans of kerosene found in the rear veranda are poured on the blood stains found in the parlour.
  19. 5 am: - curfew being lifted, the nuns who were awake from midnight, are seen near the gate of their Convent.
  20. The nuns & girls residing with them are lead into the Church by the S.F. through the door under the Portico.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Vehicles move into the Church promises upto the rear gate.
  24. About 7.30 am: vehicles move out.
  25. About 11 am: nine bodies are produced to the Mannar Hospital Mortuary.
  26. 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.

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 good moonlight.

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 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 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 cemetery area.

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 parish priest.

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 activities.

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 J.R.Jayawardene

"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..."

 
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