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Rebel officials and the Sudanese government committed themselves today to ending the 21-year civil war in southern Sudan before January, signing an agreement at a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council in Africa.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and southern rebel leader John Garang, the main negotiators for the two sides, made a similar pledge last year that never came to fruition. But this is the first time the warring sides have put a deadline in writing before the U.N. panel.

The council responded with a resolution offering to support efforts toward peace in Sudan, where two civil wars have left millions dead and homeless.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had urged the council to issue "the strongest warning" to all forces fighting in Sudan, saying that ending the war in the south would also help halt a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan's western Darfur region.

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