updated 1/24/2005 6:53:00 PM ET 2005-01-24T23:53:00

An agreement to end Africa’s longest-running civil war won unanimous endorsement Monday from the leaders of Sudan’s main southern rebel movement, paving the way for a new constitution and a power-sharing government.

The approval by the 224-seat National Liberation Council, the legislative body of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, came after a two-day meeting to discuss the accord signed by rebel leader John Garang and Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha on Jan. 9 in neighboring Kenya.

Members asked questions about security arrangements, the division of wealth between Sudan’s government-dominated north and rebel strongholds in the south, and the structure of the planned new government, but proposed no amendments.

Sudan’s national Parliament also must sign off on the deal. Deliberations in the capital, Khartoum, begin Saturday.

Once ratified, the accord calls for the drafting of a new constitution and formation of a government in which insurgents will receive 30 percent of seats. In six years, southern states will have an opportunity to vote on secession.

The 21-year war has pitted the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum against rebels fighting for greater autonomy and a larger share of the country’s wealth in the largely African Christian and animist south. More than 2 million people have died, mainly from war-induced famine and disease, and at least twice as many have fled their homes.

U.N. and U.S. officials hope the deal will help end Sudan’s other conflicts — a 23-month rebellion in the western Darfur region and a low intensity insurgency in the eastern Red Sea Hills.

Tens of thousands have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced in Darfur, where pro-government Arab militiamen have attacked African villages in a campaign of burning, looting, raping and killing. The conflict erupted in February 2003, when two rebel groups began fighting for more power and resources in the arid region.

More than 70,000 of the displaced have died of hunger and disease since March, though no firm figures exist for the direct toll of the fighting.

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