Hostages Escaping from the Tigers - What do the numbers say?

By Gam Vaesiya, Ottawa Canada

(March 24, Ottawa, Sri Lanka Guardian) The continuing drama of the hostages held by the Tigers in the jungles of Mullativu (Mooladoova) has led to a level of unforeseen political agitation in the usually quiet, snow-laden streets of Toronto, Canada. Expatriate Tamils have carried the banners of the banned Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), and photos of the Tiger supremo Prabhakaran, defying the laws of the Land.

Even the traditionally polite Canadians are getting upset and irked. Similar events have happened in other western capitals where there are substantial populations of Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates. The current struggles officially began with the 1949 resolution by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu kadchi (ITAK) to "drive out the invaders from the traditional homelands of the Tamils". Even if this concept of exclusive Tamil enclaves was mostly political grand-standing for some moderate Tamils, the younger rank and file, and some of the older fire-brands among the Tamils, as well as among the Sinhalese, took it seriously and launched Sri Lanka onto the path of confrontation. The stage was set where a man like Prabhakaran could thrive. This separatist program did not ask what would, or should, happen to the many Tamils who
had migrated to the south, in torrential numbers since 1905, when the British opened the Jaffna-Colombo railway link. These southern Tamils, and the up-country Tamils, differ from the expatriate Tamils in their total lack of Toronto-style agitation in favour of the LTTE.

Confining the civilians in the face of the military offensive.

As the Sri Lankan forces pushed into the area controlled by the LTTE,the Tigers marched the people under its control into increasingly dwindling territory. This began with the loss of Mannar (Maanthota) and the western front, and in the Eastern front with the advance of troops from Welioya (Manel aru) and the Manik Farm (Mahatalitha gama) area. Meanwhile Muhamale (Mura-maale) and Alimankada (Elephant pass) had also fallen, and Killinochchi (Giraanikka), the town used by the Tigers as their "capital" also fell into the hands of the government. As the Tigers retreated, they destroyed the infra-structure of each village and town creating ghost viialges. They placed mines and booby traps making it impossible for the villagers to return to them any time soon. Ultimately, with Aluthkulissa (Puthukudiruppu) and Mooladoova (Mullaitivu) falling into the hands of the Sri Lankan forces, the Tigers have compressed an unknown number of civilians into a small jungle patch near the Nanada Kalapuva (Nandi Lagoon) which defines the Mooladoova (Mullaitivu) area. [For etymological and historical discussions of these ancient place names, see ]
The consternation of the NGOs and INGOs

The humanitarian aid agencies have raised a shrill cry directed mostly against the government, drawing attention to a looming humanitarian crisis. The government of course claims that its actions are in fact to liberate the civilians from their captors (see aerial photo of the captive village).

How many civilians are trapped inside this jungle patch?

Various numbers, ranging from 300,000 to 50,000 have been bandied around. Just recently, Lakdhar Brahmi, an ex-UN official and member of the "International crisis group",spoke of 150,000 people who "are now trapped in a tiny pocket of land between Sri Lankan military forces, whose artillery shells regularly fall among them, and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who shoot at them if they try to escape. Food, clean water and medical assistance are all increasingly scarce". Although the UN failed abysmally in dealing with humanitarian catastrophes in the Gaza, Beirut, Darfur and other places, Brahmi suggests UN intervention, but glosses over the unsolved question of how to force the Tigers to release the hostages. Ms. Navenetham Pillai has also quoted various figures. However, every one is forced to admit that no independent confirmations of the number of hostages, the numbers injured, dead etc., are available. It is clear that these "humanitarian agencies" have no solution to the problem of "Taming the Tiger" and saving the hostages. The INGOs and NGOs are clearly upset that only the UN and the IRC have been allowed access to these areas. Thus they have been deprived of work, and consequently their funds and salaries are threatened. So their shrill cry and demanded access is natural.

Modeling the process of confinement and escape.

Scientists are often confronted with the problem of obtaining data about inaccessible objects like supernovas or Volcanoes. Similar methods can be used for the study of the hostage situation in the jungles of Mullaitivu (Mooladoova) and Puthukudiruppu (Aluthkulissa). The number of escapees arriving into the safety of the cleared areas week by week is known within some uncertainty. The "escape-and-containment" process can be modeled, and such a model is in fact capable of giving us an estimate of the number of civilians trapped within the cordon of control of the Tigers. In the accompanying figure we show the total number of escapees as a function of time in weeks. The data points are marked as triangles, while the black line is just a guide to the eye. We have examined a number of "containment and escape" models. They give a good qualitative fit, but a formal Pade-approximant to the data. While the is best for extrapolation. These considerations unmistakably indicate that the total aggregate of civilians held by the Tigers, before anyone escaped is somewhere between 70,000 and at most 100,000. Of these, already more than half have escaped.

Hence the number of civilians currently held captive may be as low as 30,000, and not more than 50,000. A picture of the villages of civilians and Tigers is shown in the picture adapted from publications in the internet.

The graph shows that a significant change in the pattern of escape of the hostages occurred after the capture of Killinochchi (Giranikke). The government claims that it has stopped using heavy artillery and air attacks. Its military thrust is claimed to be directed to eliminating the Tigers who prevent the hostages from escaping. It is also clear that if this situation continues to prevail for a few more weeks, then essentially all the hostages would succeed in escaping.

Of course, a fit formula is only as good as the data it is based on,and carry the assumptions behind the model. The model has the advantage that given better data, it can be improved upon. The much higher numbers of captives claimed by other writers is not impossible, but would require a significant upward modification of the input data.
-Sri Lanka Guardian