The National Salvation government sought peace in Sudan from the first day of the June 1989 revolution. Within seven weeks of coming to power, General Omer al-Bashir organised a meeting with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), followed in October by a 45-day national dialogue conference – with broad political representation even though there were no political parties – to discuss the root causes and potential solutions of the conflict. The outcome of this conference was the basis for government policy towards the south. In particular, it was agreed that non-Muslims had the right not to be ruled by shari'a just as Muslims had the right to be ruled by shari'a. At that time self-determination was not on the cards.
However, the SPLM/A was not ready to negotiate in 1989. It was in the military ascendancy, having captured much of southern Sudan, and at the same time was struggling to manage the rivalries between the different southern militias and to build its international profile. Government forces responded with a major offensive in the summer of 1992 that recaptured even Torit, the SPLM/A's administrative centre, and forced the SPLM/A back to the negotiating table in Abuja in 1992-93. However, Dr John Garang returned from a visit to the USA in 1993 unwilling to sign this agreement and hostilities worsened. At the same time, Sudan's relationships with neighbours Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda were tense.
It was in this difficult environment that the 1994 Inter-governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) Declaration of Principles was presented to the government. It was rejected not because it referred to self-determination but because it was presented as an ultimatum related to the question of Sudan's secularisation and as a precondition to formal talks. Although the government delegation was understandably disappointed that the question of self-determination had been pre-empted by Ali el-Haj's discussions with SPLM-Nasir in Frankfurt in 1992, its real concern was that shari'a should remain a source of law in Sudan, at least among Muslims. For the southerners the question of self-determination was critical, but it was unacceptable to the Government of Sudan (GoS) that this become a precondition for negotiation.
By 1997, both sides were more war-weary, the government had negotiated the Khartoum Peace Agreement with a number of southern militias and was seeking to improve its relations with the other IGAD member states, so the conditions for talks were more conducive. There was also more international pressure, stimulated by increased public awareness of the 'forgotten war.' The government preferred a locally-mediated over an internationally-mediated solution, and had been pursuing a strategy of 'peace from within,' demonstrated by then Vice-President General al-Zubeir's 1995 Political Charter, which paved the way for the Khartoum Peace Agreement in April 1997.
Even then, it was not clear that the SPLM/A was committed to finding a peaceful solution, and between 1997 and 1999 little was achieved. The language remained hostile and both sides kept their cards close to their chest and maintained maximal positions. However, one important factor had changed. The people had tasted peace in the form of increased freedom of movement and economic activity, and they began to put pressure on their leaders not to go back to war.