Sinhala army murders Christian priests - 1984/85

Place: Mannar | Date: 19850000

"The Church is living under seige. 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 nmaes 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
  1. 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, 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’.

  • 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. An 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..."