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Darfur rebels sentenced to death

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Sudanese court sentenced 10 members of a Darfur rebel group to death on Wednesday for an unprecedented 2008 attack on the Sudanese capital.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels were found guilty of involvement in the attack in May on the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman. Three others were acquitted and will be freed, the court said.

After the sentence was announced, the condemned men raised their shackled hands and shouted in unison “Allah Akbar” (God is great) and “Revolution until victory.”

They were found guilty of 12 charges, including treason, violence against the state and illegal possession of weapons. The group has seven days to appeal the decision, but the sitting judge rejected requests for leniency from their lawyers.

After the ruling, the chief peace talks negotiator for JEM warned that the court’s decision would “open a new gate of anarchy in this country” and further complicate the abortive talks held in Doha in the Gulf in February.

“We agreed in Doha that prisoners of war should be released as a measure of confidence-building, and this is clearly a violation of what we agreed,” Ahmed Tugud told Reuters.

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“This step will complicate the whole process, not only the talks, but also the security situation all over Sudan.”

During the talks the government and JEM agreed to adopt confidence-building measures including a prisoner swap. They said they would meet again to negotiate a more formal “framework agreement” before considering a cease-fire and full peace talks.

But JEM pulled out of future talks after the government expelled aid groups from Darfur following the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The government’s chief negotiator was not immediately available to comment.

More than 200 people were killed and hundreds injured when JEM launched the shock attack on Khartoum.

The rebels drove across hundreds of miles of desert and scrubland to reach the capital and were only repelled at a bridge a few kilometres away from the presidential palace.

Some 50 JEM members have previously been sentenced to death for the attacks, including JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim’s half brother Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr. None have yet been executed.

The court was specially created to try JEM members involved in the attack.

On Monday, Sudanese authorities executed nine Darfuri men found guilty in the 2006 murder of a Sudanese newspaper editor.

Additional reporting and writing by Alastair Sharp