UN says 300 South Sudan opposition supporters now in Congo

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo has evacuated some 300 supporters of South Sudan's opposition leader Riek Machar, many of whom were wounded, acutely malnourished or in life-threatening condition, the United Nations said late Friday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the armed fighters and civilians crossed into Congo from South Sudan with Machar, who was evacuated from Garamba National Park with his wife, son and 10 aides on Aug. 17.

He said the U.N. mission evacuated about 300 of Machar's supporters from Garamba Park, in northeast Congo near the border with South Sudan, between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5, on humanitarian grounds.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but it was rocked by a civil war that began in December 2013 when government forces loyal to Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by Machar, his former deputy who is a Nuer. At least 50,000 people were killed in the fighting and over 2 million people were displaced.

A peace deal reached in August 2015 which established a unity government has been violated regularly by fighting.

Machar, who was vice-president again, fled the capital Juba in July after fighting with forces loyal to Kiir, which left hundreds dead. Machar then slipped across the border to Congo in mid-August, also needing medical treatment. Kiir fired him as vice-president.

Dujarric said the U.N. peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO handed 117 individuals including Machar, his wife and son to Congolese authorities. Machar is now in Sudan.

As of Thursday, he said, there were an additional 183 individuals in two MONUSCO-run facilities where they are receiving medical treatment or recovering while Congolese and South Sudanese work on a longer-term solution.

Dujarric said the U.N. is also trying to encourage a solution between authorities in both countries and "regional actors" to the presence in Congo of opposition fighters.