The South African government has denied reports that former South Sudan vice president and leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Riek Machar was under house arrest outside Pretoria.
In a statement, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) confirmed that Machar was indeed in South Africa but denied claims that he was under house arrest.
“The South African Government has noted with concern some media reports about the presence of Dr Riek Machar in South Africa,” the statement said.
A report by eNCA said on Wednesday that South African authorities had “confined” Machar to a residence outside Pretoria “in order to prevent him from leaving the country again”.
Machar, according to the report, arrived in South Africa on November 21 without Pretoria’s knowledge after fleeing Juba, claiming that President Salva Kiir wanted to assassinate him.
The report quoted Reuters as saying that Machar was being held “basically under house arrest” near Pretoria, with his movements “restricted and phone calls monitored and controlled”.
“If he wants to go to the toilet, he has to hand over his phone and a guy stands outside the cubicle,” a source was quoted as saying.
But government remained adamant the claims were not true.
“Indeed, Dr Riek Machar is still in South Africa and the South African government is taking care of him, given his profile. Furthermore, the government is in constant consultations with the government of South Sudan and the IGAD countries about Dr Riek Machar’s presence in South Africa,” the statement said.
Machar initially arrived in South Africa in October for medical treatment after he fled fighting that erupted in the east African country in July.
Machar told News24 at the time that he was in the country for “routine checkup” and that he wanted to meet with President Jacob Zuma so he could tell him his side of the story after Zuma. This was after Zuma reportedly “slammed” him during his state visit to Kenya.
“I really hope to meet [the] president here and have a dialogue. I understand what he said in Kenya was also rejected in Juba,” Machar said at the time.
Zuma had, during his visit to Kenya said that he condemned the SPLM for its “popular armed resistance against the government of Juba”.
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.