KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Sudanese court handed a death sentence Saturday to a leader of Darfur's most powerful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), saying he violated the constitution and fomented war against the state, Sudan's state news agency said.
Al-Tom Hamed Tutu was captured in Southern Kordofan state, where fighting broke out in June between the Sudanese army and groups seeking to wrest control of the region from Khartoum.
JEM, which is mostly active in neighboring Darfur, joined up with a branch of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to attack government troops in Southern Kordofan in July as the conflict gradually escalated to include artillery and aircraft.
According to Sudan news agency SUNA, Tutu was also accused of wearing a military uniform with an SPLA badge.
JEM condemned the verdict against Tutu Saturday, saying he is a military and political leader of a movement that the Sudanese government recognizes and negotiates with.
"The movement calls on governments, rights and humanitarian groups and all people who love peace to share their responsibilities and intervene quickly to save leader Hamed from hanging by the racist governing gang," JEM said in a statement.
Southern Kordofan straddles the north and South Sudan, which
formally seceded from Khartoum on July 9 under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
Many fighters who sided with the SPLA against Khartoum remained on the northern side of the new border.
Earlier this month the United Nations called for an inquiry into reports of human rights abuses in Southern Kordofan that it said could amount to war crimes. Khartoum dismissed the accusations as "unfounded.
Activists and some aid workers have accused the Khartoum government of starting the fighting to stamp its authority on the key oil-producing state after South Sudan broke away.
A separate insurgency has raged in Darfur since 2003. While down from its peak, a surge in violence there since December has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz in Khartoum, writing by Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Editing by Mike Nesbit)