The special court, which handed down the ruling on Sunday, was set up by the Sudanese government to end atrocities in the region.

Sudanese officials did not identify the men and it is not clear when proceedings against them began, but they said they were convicted of armed attacks, robbery and illegal possession of arms.

It is not clear when the sentences will be carried out.

Under Islamic laws followed by the Sudanese government, a recurrent thief is punished by cutting off the left hand and the right foot.

If the thief steals again, the remaining right hand and the left foot are amputated.

Humanitarian crisis

The Sudanese government, under international pressure to end atrocities by militias known as the Janjawid, is using the court to show it is fulfilling its pledge to bring law and order to the area.

The government has denied it backs the militias with helicopter gunships and vehicles in a campaign that has been equated with ethnic cleansing.

Sudan president Umar al-Bashir
denies he backs the Janjawid

Darfur's troubles stem from long-standing tensions between nomadic tribes and their farming neighbours over dwindling water and agricultural land.

Those tensions exploded into violence in February 2003, when two rebel groups took up arms over what they regarded as unjust treatment by the government in the land dispute.

Amnesty report

News of the sentences came as a human rights group accused the Janjawid of gang-raping and abducting girls as young as eight and women as old as 80, systematically killing, torturing, or using them as sex slaves.

In a report called "Rape as a Weapon of War", Amnesty International outlined sexual violence against women it says is happening on a massive scale.

"Soldiers of the Sudan government army are present during attacks by the Janjaweed and when rapes are committed, but the Sudan government has done nothing so far to stop them"

Benedicte Goderiaux,
Amnesty International

It says Khartoum is actively violating its legal obligations to protect civilians.

"Soldiers of the Sudan government army are present during attacks by the Janjaweed and when rapes are committed, but the Sudan government has done nothing so far to stop them," Amnesty researcher Benedicte Goderiaux said.

The Sudan embassy in Beirut said in a statement the Amnesty report was aimed at defaming the government, distorting Arab culture and driving a wedge between Sudan's ethnic groups.