South Sudan's former vice president and opposition leader Riek Machar has left the country for an unspecified neighboring state, opposition officials said on Thursday. The move comes several weeks after he withdrew from the capital, Juba, during fierce fighting with government troops.
"He 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.
Gatdek Dak, Machar's personal spokesman, said opposition fighters had "successfully relocated our leader to a neighboring country where he will now have unhindered access to the rest of the world and the media," a statement posted on Facebook said.
Deadly fighting between rivals
Civil war broke out in South Sudan in late 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup. The fighting split the country along ethnic lines and drove it to the brink of collapse. Conflict flared up against last month when a power-sharing agreement collapsed.
During last month's deadly violence, men in military uniforms rampaged through Juba, attacking local civilians and foreign aid workers. UN peacekeepers have been criticized for not intervening to protect civilians and foreigners, and the UN says it's investigating these claims.
The UN Security Council approved a US-drafted resolution last week to strengthen the 12,000-person peacekeeping mission with 4,000 additional troops drawn from regional armies and equipped with a more aggressive mandate. But the South Sudan government has so far not accepted them.
Machar has previously said he would not return to Juba until the extra peacekeepers are deployed.
jar/tj (Reuters, AFP)