Cape Town – South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar, who has been in South Africa since last year, has told the United Nations that the country’s government has been “hospitable”, but he wishes to be released “from confinement and detention”.
“My host here South Africa has been hospitable,” Machar said in a statement released on Wednesday after a teleconference with the UN security council.
According to reports the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), arrived in South Africa late last year without the government’s knowledge – after fleeing the capital Juba, claiming that President Salva Kiir wanted to assassinate him.
Reports said at the time that he was “basically under house arrest” near Pretoria, with his movements “restricted and phone calls monitored and controlled”.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation confirmed at the time that Machar was indeed in South Africa but denied claims that he was under house arrest.
In his statement Machar called on the UN to “…end the international policy of isolating the SPLM-IO, including my release from confinement and detention so as to enable our full engagement in finding a peaceful resolution to this conflict.”
The conflict in South Sudan has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than two million people.
The country became Africa’s youngest nation in 2011 after the end of a 21 year war with its neighbour Sudan for independence.
Last week President Kiir declared a unilateral ceasefire as he launched a national dialogue. The move was, however, seen as a controversial, as it excluded Machar.
This was not the first time that Kiir had vowed the army will lay down arms in the three-year conflict, and he warned that his troops would defend themselves if attacked.
The SPLM-IO has however remained adamant that the announced dialogue was not going to be successful without Machar.
Deputy military spokesperson for SPLM-IO, Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, told News24 that the dialogue was only a “smokescreen” meant to put the blame on those who were against Kiir.
Gabriel said that the move was meant to mislead the international community which had been pressuring Kiir to end the violence.
“The dialogue is one-sided since Machar is not part of it. We are, therefore, not going to participate in it without him. Machar is not a violent man as President Kiir seeks to portray him. He is the man of the people.
“Kiir knows that when he [Machar] gets back to the country he would simply put an end to his [Kiir’s]looting. Once he gets back, we will defend him with everything that we have, even if it means that the fighting continues forever,” said Gabriel.