SOUTH Sudan’s former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar “is in the care” of the authorities in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN has said, weeks after he withdrew from the capital Juba during fierce fighting with government troops.
The news on Thursday came after a statement by the leadership of the SPLA In Opposition (SPLM-IO) party said Machar had left South Sudan on Wednesday to a “safe country within the region”, without giving any further details on his exact whereabouts.
“We were aware yesterday of the presence of Riek Machar in DRC,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday.
“At that point the UN Mission contacted the authorities in the DRC who in turn requested MONUSCO [UN’s mission in the DRC] to facilitate his extraction and his transfer to the care of the DRC.
“We have undergone an extraction operation and so he is currently in the care of the authorities in the DRC.”
Earlier on Thursday, a Machar aide said Machar had left the country and was in a “safe” country in the region, his aides said.
“(Machar) has now been safely evacuated to a safe country within the region he will hold a press conference within the next 24 hours,” Mabior Garang de Mabior, a spokesman for Machar’s SPLM-IO party, said in a statement.
The statement at that point did not reveal which country Machar had gone to. It is not clear whether Machar will stay in DR Congo, or will move on to another country and whether he will continue his political struggle. Aides have suggested he was in “transit”.
Barely two years after independence, civil war broke out again in South Sudan in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. The fighting has split the country along ethnic lines and driven it to the brink of collapse.
A peace deal signed between the government and rebels almost a year ago has so far failed to end the conflict. And last month Juba was rocked by several days of heavy fighting between Kiir’s forces and those loyal to Machar.
Machar fled the capital Juba following heavy fighting in the city between July 8 and 11. He was subsequently replaced as vice president by Taban Deng Gai, a former friend and ally.