(Adds Sri Lanka comments, background)
LUXEMBOURG, Oct 16 (Reuters) - European Union judges struck down anti-terrorism sanctions against the Tamil Tigers that were imposed by the EU but said on Thursday that the assets of the Sri Lankan group should remain frozen for the time being.
The court said a decision by EU leaders in 2006 to place the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on a list of terrorist organisations had been based on “imputations derived from the press and the Internet” rather than on direct investigation of the group’s actions, as required by law.
It said in a statement that the EU had also failed, when following Indian sanctions against the Tigers, to ensure that India gave sufficient judicial protection to those it accused.
However, the court rejected the LTTE’s contention that it was exempt from EU anti-terrorism legislation because it was engaged in an “armed conflict” with the Sri Lankan government and bound by the laws of war. The court, which stressed it was taking no view on whether the LTTE was a terrorist organisation, said EU laws on terrorism also applied to armed conflicts.
Saying that sanctions might be applied in future against the Tigers, who were defeated militarily in 2009, the court said assets that were frozen should remain so “temporarily”.
Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement the government was ready to provide information to justify designating the LTTE as a terrorist organization.
“It is noteworthy that a number of EU member countries have carried out investigations against LTTE activists in their territories, some of which are ongoing, while some have resulted in the accused being sentenced by court,” the ministry said.
It also said the court decision may affect the security of Sri Lankans living in EU territory and EU citizens of Sri Lankan origin, who are likely to come under pressure once again by pro-LTTE activists.
Sri Lanka has tightened security in the former war zone in the north of the country after its military in April killed three ethnic Tamil separatists who the army said had attempted to revive the terrorist outfit.
Higher military officials have told Reuters that funds from some EU member countries have been sent to those who are trying to instigate renewed violence in the heavily militarised north.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Editing by Dominic Evans, Larry King