South Sudan observes SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) Day on 16 May to commemorate the beginning of the formation of the SPLA on that date in 1983. This began a civil war in Sudan that lasted around 20 years.
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The attempt by Muslims in northern Sudan to impose Sharia Law on the south, which is mostly Christian and Animist, triggered the revolt of the SPLA. The north was essentially trying to force Islam on the south, and a group of soldiers revolted in an army barracks on 16 May 1983. When another unit was sent to suppress the rebellion, they joined it instead.
The mutiny continued to grow as more and more soldiers were recruited by the SPLA. The leader of the SPLA was John Garang, until he died in a helicopter accident in 2005. Thereafter, Salva Mayardit became the SPLA’s new general. At that point, however, an armistice had already been agreed to, thus ending the war.
Upon the declaration of South Sudanese independence in 2011, the SPLA was adopted as the new nation’s Armed Forces. SPLA Day is particularly celebrated by members of South Sudan’s Armed Forces, which are now over 200,000 strong, although others in the country will observe it as well.
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