South Sudan’s former rebel leader and vice president who fled the country last week has re-emerged in neighboring Sudan, which announced Tuesday that he had needed “urgent medical attention.” Riek Machar’s whereabouts had been largely unknown for weeks, leaving an already fragile peace deal in limbo.
Machar’s condition was now stable, and he will stay “until he leaves the country for a destination of his choice to complete his medical treatment,” Sudan government spokesman Ahmed Bilal Osman said in a statement carried by the SUNA news agency.
Machar fled South Sudan’s capital last month amid renewed fighting, just months after he returned to the country to resume being vice president under a peace deal signed last year under international pressure to end a civil war.
Many of his bodyguards were shot dead in the July fighting that erupted outside the presidential compound where Machar and former rival President Salva Kiir were meeting on recent tensions.
His absence further weakened the peace deal, with Kiir quickly replacing Machar as vice president in a contested move.
A spokesman for Machar, James Gatdet Gak, confirmed via social media that Machar was in Khartoum and suffered from “exhaustion and a swollen leg,” and he thanked the Sudanese government for the medical care.
Osman, the government spokesman, said Sudan had recently accepted Machar for “purely humanitarian reasons” and promptly notified neighboring South Sudan’s government. He did not say how or when Machar had arrived.
Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman had told journalists on Saturday that Machar was not there.
South Sudan’s presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said the government was not aware that Machar was in Sudan and had no comment.
Last week, a spokesman for Machar announced that he had fled across the border into Congo after weeks of walking through the bush. The United Nations said it had arranged for its peacekeeping mission in Congo to fly Machar to a safe place away from the Congo-South Sudan border and that Machar was in the hands of Congolese authorities.
But Congo’s government last week said it had no knowledge of Machar being there.
It was not immediately clear whether Machar had plans to emerge from his treatment in Sudan to speak publicly.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 between armed supporters of rivals Kiir and Machar. Machar’s side has received ammunition, arms, uniforms and other supplies from Sudan, a U.N. panel of experts has reported.
Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 900,000 have fled the world’s youngest country, which was founded in 2011 after years of fighting for independence from Sudan.