South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar, a pariah for the West since his call last month for renewed civil war, headed to South Africa for medical check-ups on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported.
In what he billed as his first media appearance since he fled the South Sudanese capital Juba as fresh fighting flared in July, Machar said that his stay in South Africa would be temporary and that he would leave after the tests.
“I am leaving the country now for South Africa to have medical tests and after that I will leave South Africa,” he told reporters at Khartoum airport without specifying where.
Machar gave no details of his medical condition but spoke of the travails of his flight from South Sudan.
“I walked on foot until I reached the jungles of (Democratic Republic of) Congo and it took me 37 days,” he said.
He said that it was only with the help of regional governments and the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC that he had reached medical help in Khartoum.
He was discharged from hospital in Khartoum on August 26 after being treated for a swollen leg, aides said at the time.
The Sudanese authorities said they had admitted Machar because he needed “immediate medical treatment”.
Khartoum was a longtime backer of Machar during the two-decade war that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
Machar led a breakaway faction that fought the mainstream pro-independence rebels and received arms from the Sudanese military.
He broke again with the Juba government in 2013, sparking a devastating civil war in which allegations of gang rape, cannibalism and mass killings of civilians were widespread.
He returned to Juba earlier this year under a hard-won peace deal but it broke down in July when fresh clashes broke out between his ethnic Nuer supporters and the mainly Dinka troops of the government.
After his escape into exile in Khartoum, Machar last month urged “a popular armed resistance” against his rival President Salva Kiir’s government.
On Thursday, the European Union, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom, together with Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, issued a joint statement condemning “calls by opposition leaders for a renewal of armed conflict”.
“Further fighting will not solve South Sudan’s pressing political and economic challenges. It will only increase the suffering of South Sudan’s people, worsen a grave humanitarian crisis, and further inflame ethnic tensions.”