A Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced to death in absentia a former governor who is now a rebel leader, along with another insurgent chief, a lawyer said.
"Seventeen people were sentenced in absentia to be executed by hanging. These include Malik Agar and Yassir Arman," said Al-Tigani Hassan, a lawyer who was present for the verdict in Singa town, the capital of Sennar state.
Agar, formerly Blue Nile state governor, is chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, and Arman is secretary general of the movement, which has been fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile for almost three years.
The verdict came at the end of a nine-month trial, but also followed by 12 days the adjournment of African Union-mediated peace talks between Khartoum and the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa.
The two sides were deadlocked, said the AU.
It gave them until April 30 to reach a peace deal in the conflict which, according to the United Nations, has displaced or otherwise affected an estimated 1.2 million people.
Arman is head of the SPLM-N delegation at the talks.
All the accused belonged to SPLM-N and were convicted of terrorism, weapons and other criminal charges stemming from the September 2011 start of the war in Blue Nile.
The 17 had no legal representation in court, said Hassan.
He was part of the defence team for another 78 SPLM-N accused, both civilian members and those from its military wing, who were in custody.
Of them, 31 were acquitted, 46 given life sentences and one sentenced to death along with the 17 sentenced in absentia, the lawyer said.
Talks between the government and SPLM-N resumed in February for the first time in nearly a year, after President Omar al-Bashir called for a wide-ranging national dialogue, including with rebels in the country ravaged by poverty, insurgency and political turmoil.
Like the 11-year-old insurgency in western Sudan's Darfur region, the conflict has been fuelled by complaints among non-Arab groups of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated regime.
The peace talks have made slow progress at the two sessions so far held.
After the first adjournment, rockets believed to be from the rebels rained down on Kadugli town, the capital of South Kordofan.
The AU presented both sides with a draft agreement that would put in place an immediate ceasefire and allow aid to reach "all affected persons."
It said the government and rebels would "affirm the need for an inclusive and holistic process of national dialogue and constitutional reform."
Such a process would uphold the principles of democracy, unity in diversity and the rights and equality of all citizens, it said.
At the most recent talks, the SPLM-N presented "a fundamentally different proposal, which rendered an agreement unattainable," the mediator said.
The AU's peace and security council then called on its negotiators to assist the parties to reach an agreement by April 30, although it made no mention of possible penalties should the two sides continue to disagree.