JUBA- South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to Juba on Wednesday morning, according to AFP, more than two years after he fled the youngest country in the world following the collapse of a 2016 peace deal.
Dr Machar, the former vice president, fled to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 after fierce fighting broke out in Juba, killing hundreds of people while others crossed to borders as refugees.
He later travelled to South Africa, where he was held under house arrest until earlier this year.
Last month he and President Salva Kiir signed a new peace deal in the latest attempt to end the five-year war.
The series of discussions that led to the signing of the peace agreement, started in May this year in capital Addis Ababa and were called by the Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD) leaders, the seven-member regional bloc that has been facilitating the South Sudan peace talks since fighting first broke out in December 2013.
Machar’s previous homecoming, in April 2016, was put off by wrangling over how many bodyguards he could bring with him and what weapons they would carry, but Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesperson for Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group, said this time Machar would be accompanied by only around 30 political figures.
“We are worried for his security in Juba, but the truth is here: we are for peace, and what we are trying to do is build trust. So that is why he is able to leave his forces behind and just go with politicians,” Gabriel said.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar — then his deputy — of plotting a coup.
The conflict has split the country along ethnic lines and seen mass rape, the forced recruitment of child soldiers and attacks on civilians. It has caused one of the world’s deepest humanitarian crises.
Several ceasefires and peace agreements have so far failed to end the fighting that has killed an estimated 380,000 people, uprooted a third of the population, forced nearly two-and-a-half million into exile as refugees and triggered bouts of deadly famine.