Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More than 90 now face death penalty over raid on Khartoum

Sudan court sentences nine to death over rebel attack
Wednesday May 20, 2009 7:03am EDT

* More than 90 now face death penalty over raid on Khartoum
* Darfur rebels denounce sentence
* Rebels say move may undermine talks with government

By Maaz Idris Alnugomi
KHARTOUM, May 20, 2009 (Reuters) - A Sudanese court on Wednesday sentenced nine men to death for taking part in a Darfur rebel attack on Khartoum.

The ruling brought the number of people facing death by hanging for the shock raid last year by the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to 91.

After the sentences were announced in Khartoum North court, six of the defendants jumped to their feet, shouting "Revolution till victory", while women inside the room cried out in shock.

JEM forces drove across hundreds of miles of desert to attack Khartoum in May 2008 and were stopped just short of the presidential palace and army headquarters.

JEM denounced the judgment, the latest in a series of death sentences handed out over the attack in hearings dating back to July.

The group's U.K.-based spokesman, Ahmed Hussein Adam, called it an act of provocation and said it could undermine already troubled negotiations with Sudan's government that have been taking place in Doha.

"Day after day, week after week, they are bringing our members into court and sentencing them to death," Adam told Reuters, speaking by phone.

"They are trying to keep the pressure on us so we won't attack again. But this will not give them any safety."

Adam said the sentencing violated international law and a goodwill agreement signed between JEM and the Sudanese government in Qatar in February.

"The agreement said our members should be treated as prisoners of war. And prisoners of war should not be sentenced. They should not be tried," said Adam.

He added his movement would bring up the sentencing with joint U.N./African Union mediators who have been organising the Doha talks.

JEM commanders met senior government leaders in Qatar twice this year for discussions which are supposed to pave the way to full peace talks.

The latest session adjourned without any concrete signs of progress and some JEM officials have raised doubts about whether they will return for a scheduled resumption on May 27. JEM has also clashed with government forces in North Darfur in recent weeks.

One defendant, accused of sheltering a JEM member in his house, was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday, while two other men were acquitted.

Sudan's government said more than 200 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the JEM attack on Omdurman, across the river Nile from downtown Khartoum. (Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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