July 29, 2008 / 3:49 PM / 11 years ago

Sudan condemns eight Darfur rebels to death

(Recasts with sentences)

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, July 29 (Reuters) - Sudan condemned eight Darfur rebels to death on Tuesday in the first sentences by courts formed to try those captured during an unprecedented attack on Khartoum in May, a lawyer said.

The attack by the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) killed more than 200 people and wounded hundreds more. It was the first time a regional insurgency had reached the capital.

"They condemned eight of them to death but one of them was found innocent," said Muez Hadra, a lawyer from a joint defence team formed to help those caught.

Three other trials are continuing, including one trying senior JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr.

The attack badly shook Sudan’s government and the interior ministry announced a new plan on Tuesday for defences to prevent any repeat.

International experts estimate some 200,000 have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect.

Khartoum blames the Western media for exaggerating the conflict and says 10,000 people have been killed.

Tension have been rising again in Darfur over moves by the International Criminal Court to get an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in the western region.

On Tuesday Sudan said it hoped to petition the World Court for an advisory opinion on whether the ICC, also based in The Hague, had any jurisdiction over a country which is not a party to it.

"We think that the ICC hasn’t got any jurisdiction against Sudan and we will go to the International Court of Justice to question this," said Ghazi Suleiman, deputy head of the parliament’s legislative council.

A spokesman for the World Court said only U.N. bodies could ask for an advisory opinion from the World Court, but Suleiman said he believed Sudan would be able to get the U.N. General Assembly to take such a step with the help of Arab, African, Islamic and non-aligned states.

Sudan’s army confirmed on Tuesday that police clashed at the weekend with former Darfur rebels, killing four of them, but said it was the government forces that had come under attack.

Minni Arcua Minnawi’s Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), which signed a 2006 peace deal but has increasingly poor relations with Khartoum, had accused the army of attacking his forces on Saturday.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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