South Sudanese refugees cheer as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visits the Nyumanzi transit centre in Adjumani, north of the capital Kampala on August 29, 2016. (AFP photo)
The United Nations has announced that its peacekeeping force in the Congo has evacuated nearly 300 supporters of South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar, many of whom wounded or malnourished.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated on Friday that the armed militants and civilians crossed into the Congo from South Sudan with Machar, who was evacuated from Garamba National Park with his wife, son and 10 aides on August 17, AFP reported.
According to Dujarric, the UN mission evacuated some 300 of Machar's followers from Garamba Park in northeast Congo near the border with South Sudan between August 24 and September 5 on humanitarian grounds since many of them were either injured, acutely malnourished or in life-threatening conditions.
South Sudanese Rebel Leader Riek Machar (AFP photo)
He further added that the UN peacekeepers, known as MONUSCO, handed 117 individuals including Machar, his spouse and son to Congolese authorities.
The UN spokesman then noted that as of Thursday there were an additional 183 individuals in two MONUSCO-run facilities, where they are getting medical treatment or recovering while Congolese and South Sudanese work on a longer-term solution to the persisting conflict.
Dujarric also stated the UN is making efforts to promote a solution between authorities in both African nations and "regional actors" regarding the presence of South Sudanese opposition fighters in the Congo.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but it was soon hit by a major civil war that began in December 2013 when government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by Machar, his former deputy who is a Nuer.
At least 50,000 people have been killed in the fighting and over two million people have been displaced.
Even after a peace deal reached in August 2015 established a unity government, it has been violated regularly by continued fighting.
South Sudan civil war: A timeline of events
December 2013: Fighting erupts after Kiir accuses Machar of plotting to overthrow him.
January 2014: A ceasefire is signed between the government and the opposition.
August 2014: The first round of talks begins in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, as fighting continues in violation of the peace deal.
February 2015: The government calls off general elections due in a few months because of the ongoing conflict.
August 2015: The president signs an internationally-mediated peace deal under which, Machar would return as vice-president.
April 2016: Machar returns to Juba and is sworn in as first vice-president in a new unity government.
July 2016: Kiir sacks Machar after a new wave of fighting erupts. Machar leaves Juba with his troops, saying he would return only if an international peacekeeping force guarantees his safety.
August 2016: The opposition figure flees the country.