South Sudan rebel leader has fled country, spokesman says


KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — South Sudan’s rebel leader has fled the country and was expected to emerge after weeks in hiding later Thursday to speak to the press, a spokesman said.

Riek Machar left for a safe country in the neighboring East African region, Mabior Garang said in a posting on Facebook. He later said Machar had crossed the border into neighboring Congo and was airlifted to the capital, Kinshasa.

The United Nations learned Wednesday that Machar was in Congo and arranged on humanitarian grounds for the U.N. peacekeeping force there to airlift him, members of his family and others, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. He wouldn’t say where they were Thursday, only that they were under Congolese authorities.

After renewed clashes with President Salva Kiir’s army in the capital, Juba, in early July, Machar and fighters supporting him left the city, putting the country’s peace deal in limbo. Hundreds of civilians died in the fighting.

In his absence, Machar last month was replaced as first vice president after a disputed change of leadership in his party.

Machar has said he would not return to Juba until a regional force is deployed in the capital to help restore calm. Dozes of his bodyguards were shot dead in the July fighting after gunfire erupted outside the presidential compound where Machar was meeting with Kiir about recent tensions.

The posting by Machar’s spokesman on Facebook said the rebel leader left South Sudan after a “botched attempt to assassinate” him. It did not give details.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted to send 4,000 regional peacekeepers to Juba. The government has not yet accepted the force, saying that deploying it without South Sudan’s approval would be a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013, and a peace deal was signed in August 2015. The agreement has been violated repeatedly by fighting.

Both sides in the fighting have been accused of human rights abuses.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

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This version corrects to say the press conference was expected later Thursday, not Friday.

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