Nairobi, Kenya | AFP |
South Sudan’s former rebel leader and ex-vice president Riek Machar has left the country following violent clashes last month and is now 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 did not reveal which country Machar had gone to.
Civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused Machar, then his deputy, 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’s whereabouts have been unclear since the fighting flared in Juba between July 8 and 11 and led to his outgunned and outnumbered forces being chased from the city by government troops.
He was subsequently replaced as vice president on July 25 by Taban Deng Gai, a former friend and ally.
– ‘Concerned about allegations’ –
Deng warned Wednesday that Machar should stay out of politics to allow peace despite previously indicating that if Machar returned to Juba he would stand aside.
Several former rebel commanders have warned they consider Deng’s elevation to be “treason”.
On Wednesday the United Nations launched a probe of a hotel attack in South Sudan in which soldiers raped women and assaulted aid workers while UN peacekeepers allegedly failed to act.
The abuses now being probed by the UN — specifically, a July 11 attack on the Hotel Terrain in the capital Juba — took place during the violence that engulfed the city for four days last month.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said late Tuesday he was “concerned about allegations that UNMISS (the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan) did not respond appropriately to prevent this and other grave cases of sexual violence committed in Juba.”
Last Friday the UN Security Council approved a US-drafted resolution to strengthen the 12,000-person peacekeeping mission with 4,000 additional troops drawn from regional armies and equipped with a more aggressive mandate.
Juba has yet to accept the resolution.