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An independent nation as of 9 July 2011, South Sudan was the location of much of the fighting during the second Sudanese civil war (1983–2005), which pitted a coalition of Sudanese armed forces, paramilitaries, and non-state armed groups against the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Both sides armed Southern tribal militias, and the SPLM/A split numerous times, with some factions returning to the government only to rebel once again. In the latter phases of the war, much of the conflict was intra-Southern, with the pro-government fighting conducted by a patchwork of Khartoum-supported Southern commanders and militias loosely organized under the banner of the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF).
The SPLA and the Government of Sudan signed a series of agreements culminating in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which established a six-year interim period for Southern Sudan to consider its future relationship with Sudan, while the SSDF was sidelined. Following the death of SPLA leader John Garang, his successor Salva Kiir attempted to integrate the former SSDF commander into the army through the 2006 Juba Declaration, even as the inner circle of the regime moved more decisively towards supporting independence.
As Southern independence approached, a number of rebellions by former SSDF commanders, as well as others linked to tribal groups in conflict with the Dinka-dominated SPLA, shook the Greater Upper Nile region. Some of the rebel commanders were supported by Khartoum.
The fragile governing coalition between former enemies unraveled in 2013 after President Salva Kiir’s unilateral sacking of his cabinet and the firing of his vice-president, Riek Machar, who was close to anti-SPLA militia leaders from the civil-war era. The political crisis became a military and humanitarian one after elements of the SPLA killed an unknown number of ethnic Nuer in Juba in December 2013, rebel cadres rapidly self-mobilized, with Riek as leader, and large numbers of the army defected to the rebellion, known as the SPLM-in Opposition (SPLM-IO). Fighting concentrated largely in Greater Upper Nile, and the rapid intercession of Ugandan forces on the government side was probably decisive in securing the regime. To a much lesser degree, Khartoum has provided assistance to the rebels and provided them with access to rear bases inside Sudan.
In the almost two years since the crisis began, and despite the capture and recapture of many towns by the rebels and army, the government controls most urban areas in Greater Upper Nile, while the rebels hold a number of rural areas. The parties to the conflict signed an IGAD-brokered compromise agreement in August 2015, though both the SPLA and the SPLM-IO made clear they had many reservations, and had both rejected a similar document only months earlier. The specific modalities of demobilization, force integration, and political power sharing have yet to be agreed.
The HSBA conducts field research on armed groups, armed violence, and arms flows in South Sudan. Please use the navigation bar to the left to find published reports, updates, and other information.
Updated August 2015.