A spokesman for Riek Machar says his departure followed an assassination attempt
By NICHOLAS BARIYO and MATINA STEVIS
The WALL STREET JOURNAL
KAMPALA, Uganda—South Sudan’s former vice president and longtime opposition leader has fled the country following what a spokesman for Riek Machar said was an assassination attempt by forces loyal to his longtime rival, President Salva Kiir.
Mr. Machar reached the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, said Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister. Mr. Machar’s aides said he is expected to stay for some days before traveling to Ethiopia.
The U.N. on Thursday said its Congolese mission, known as Monusco, transferred Mr. Machar within the DRC once he had made his way to the border with South Sudan.
“We can confirm that an operation was undertaken by Monusco on humanitarian grounds to facilitate the extraction of Riek Machar, his wife and 10 others from a location in the DRC, in support of the DRC authorities. Riek Machar has been handed over to the DRC authorities. We are not in a position to confirm his location,” a U.N. spokeswoman said.
Mr. Machar’s spokesman, James Dak, on Thursday offered no additional information on the alleged assassination attempt. Mr. Kiir’s office had no immediate response to the allegations.
The former vice president’s departure comes weeks after the collapse of an internationally brokered power-sharing deal aimed at calming the long-running feud between him and Mr. Kiir, a quarrel that has mired South Sudan in almost-constant conflict since it became an independent nation in 2011.
After Mr. Kiir accused Mr. Machar, his then-deputy, of plotting a coup in 2013, a civil war broke out that left an estimated 50,000 people dead. In April, Mr. Machar, accompanied by some 1,000 troops, returned to the capital Juba to resume his post as vice president, following last August’s signing of the power-sharing accord.
But less than three months later, fighting with Mr. Kiir’s forces forced him and some of the estimated 40,000 troops loyal to him to flee Juba and go into hiding.
The conflict in the world’s youngest nation has left nearly three million people homeless and forced one million to flee to neighboring countries. Oil production has dropped by half, to 120,000 barrels a day, leaving the crude-dependent nation struggling for revenue to pay troops and finance basic imports, including food.
The U.S. has spent $1.6 billion trying to quell the escalating violence, with little success.
The U.N.’s decision to help Mr. Machar could widen a rift between the government of South Sudan and the U.N. mission there ahead of the deployment of an additional 4,000 peacekeepers under the U.N. mission, which the government has called unnecessary and a violation of sovereignty.
A Western diplomat said the U.N. helped Mr. Machar because it believed it was very possible the South Sudanese army would eventually capture and kill him, a move it feared could restart the civil war, and not because of any desire to assist Mr. Machar personally.
The U.N. is bound by strict rules of impartiality and neutrality in conflict zones. Its mission in Juba declined to comment on whether it had any part in evacuating Mr. Machar, but the mission has maintained its full impartiality throughout the conflict.
This week, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., Samantha Power, called for an investigation into allegations that Sudanese troops gang-raped, beat and robbed aid workers during at attack on a hotel compound in Juba on July 11.
The U.N. on Tuesday said it was looking into accusations that U.N. peacekeepers had failed to respond to the attack.
Analysts were divided over how Mr. Machar’s exit from South Sudan would affect the country’s deteriorating security situation.
The International Crisis Group said it could lead to a partially implemented truce that favors Mr. Kiir’s government, which in turn could produce “relative stability” in Juba but “perpetual conflicts elsewhere” in the country.
John Prendergast, a South Sudan expert with the Enough Project, a U.S.-based campaign group, warned that Mr. Machar could use his exile to build up his arsenal.
Mr. Kiir, whose forces now fully control the capital, has sought to consolidate his power, replacing Mr. Machar with Taban Deng Gai and calling for early elections, despite pleas from the international community. Mr. Machar maintains he is still vice president.
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Wednesday said Mr. Kiir’s “unilateral actions are of great concern” to the U.S. and risk undermining the truce.
Write to Nicholas Bariyo at firstname.lastname@example.org and Matina Stevis at email@example.com