Sudan People’s Liberation Army – SPLA

The SPLA was created in 1983 as the armed wing of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) at the start of the Sudanese the civil war.

This armed conflict was as a reaction against the decision of general Numeiry to impose the Sharia to the whole population of Sudan.

The SPLA regroups the Christian and animist opposition movements of South Sudan fighting against the Arab and Islamic government of Khartoum. Although the majority of its members belong to the Dinka tribe, they do not claim to fight for the secession of the south but for a secular and democratic Sudan.

The army is led by John Garang, a Christian from Dinka origin. He used to be to be colonel in the Sudanese army and is a personal friend of the Ugandan president Museveni (both were students at Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam University in the 1960s).

In 1991 Garang’s second-in-command, Riak Machar, made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him and caused a split within the movement. The government took advantage of this coup and made new allies among SPLA dissidents, including Mr Machar.

In 1995, the SPLA had almost been driven out Soudan. It managed however to survive by democratising its organisation and by external help from Uganda and perhaps from Eritrea and Ethiopia. Despite denials by American diplomats, the United States is also helping the SPLA via neighbouring countries (in 1996, military aid worth 20 millions $ was given to Sudan’s neighbours).

Since 1997, SPLA controls a region larger than France where it is de facto setting up an embryonic state known to the rebels as « New Sudan ».
On 21 April 1997 the Sudanese government tentatively signed a peace agreement with five SPLA dissident groups. This agreement provided for a referendum on autodetermination to be held within four years and the creation of a Coordination Council which should govern the South until the referendum. In August 1997 Riak Machar was named president of the Coordination Council. In exchange, the Southern factions merged into the South Soudan Defense Forces to wage war against the SPLA. The SPLA and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance, a federation of Northern opposition forces, based in Asmara-Eritrea) denounced this separate agreement as a betrayal and made an alliance under the military command of John Garang.

Under the auspices of IGAD (Intergovernmental Autorithy for Development composed of Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan) the Sudanese government and the SPLA finally accepted in May 1998 the principle of a referendum on autodetermination under international supervision. One of the remaining problems is that the South Sudan as envisaged by the SPLA – roughly a third of the present Sudan – includes most of the areas with oil reserves (the Bentiu and Muglad oilfields) while the borders drafted by the government are much more confined.