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Court convicts 5 Dutch Tamils of fundraising for Tamil Tigers but acquits them of terror links
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) ' A Dutch court convicted five Tamils on Friday of raising funds for the outlawed Tamil Tigers rebel group and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from two to six years.
The Hague District Court said fundraising operations, using threats to wrest money from the Tamil community in the Netherlands. That continued even after the Sri Lankan military crushed the Tigers and killed their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May 2009, ending a 26-year insurrection for an independent Tamil state that cost an estimated 100,000 lives.
The judgment said fundraising "carried on unabated" after the Tamil Tigers were outlawed by the European Union in 2006.
In a complex ruling, the court acquitted them of membership of an international terror organization, saying the group could not be classified a terror group under Dutch law.
Nonetheless, the EU ban on the group, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, applied in the Netherlands, making their fundraising operations illegal, the court ruled.
Victor Koppe, a lawyer for two of the defendants, said he would appeal the convictions.
"Basically what they are saying is that the LTTE should not be on the EU banned (terror) list and at the same time convicting them for membership of the group," he said.
During the trial, Koppe called the Tamil Tigers "freedom fighters" and compared them to rebels who fought to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.
Judges said in their lengthy written ruling that one of the suspects, identified only as Selliah, was the Tigers' key overseas bookkeeper. He was given the longest sentence, six years.
Selliah was "an unmissable link" in the LTTE. "Without Selliah's work many millions of euros would not have gone to an outlawed organization ' the LTTE," the judgment said.
The other men all worked for groups that judges called front organizations that raised money in the Netherlands.
Prosecutors also have an opportunity to appeal the sentences, but did not immediately say if they would.
Judges also acquitted the men of extortion, but convicted them of using nonviolent threats to force Tamil exiles to donate to the Tigers. Groups of fundraisers would repeatedly visit the homes of Tamils and threaten that they would not be allowed to visit their relatives in the predominantly Tamil areas of Sri Lanka if they did not pay up.
Several among the many Tamils who packed the court's public gallery rejected the verdicts as unjust and said they had voluntarily contributed money for humanitarian goals in Sri Lanka.
"I feel very sad," said the wife of one of the suspects. She declined to give her name, saying she feared reprisals by government forces on family members in Sri Lanka.
"My husband was a humanitarian worker. This is not a humanitarian verdict," she said.