U.N. warns of stability risk from fleeing South Sudan fighters

south sudan
U.N. peacekeepers stand guard at a demonstration by people in Jebel, near South Sudan's capital Juba, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jok Solomun

Democratic Republic of Congo’s U.N. mission on Monday warned that a failure to properly manage the influx of more than 750 supporters of South Sudan’s main opposition leader, who fled across the border last month, would threaten regional stability.

The mission, known as MONUSCO, said in a statement that it rescued another 268 people from Garamba National Park in northeastern Congo over the weekend. They had all fled South Sudan with the country’s former vice-president Riek Machar, following fierce fighting in the capital, Juba.

“MONUSCO and the United Nations headquarters continue their discussions with the DRC government (and) regional organisations in order to find a favorable resolution to this situation, which could become a threat to peace in Congo and the region,” the statement said.

Machar, who was picked up by MONUSCO with a leg injury on Aug. 17 and later transferred to Sudan for medical treatment, is the only one of the group known to have left Congo.

The most recent transfers bring the total number evacuated by U.N. helicopters to 634. Another 134 in the park are believed to still require assistance, the statement said.

The transferred fighters are required firstly to hand over their weapons, MONUSCO added.

Influxes of rebel fighters from volatile neighbours is a sensitive theme in Congo, where the flow of Hutu militiamen from neighbouring Rwanda after its 1994 genocide helped trigger years of regional conflict in eastern Congo that killed millions.

MONUSCO said in a statement on Sunday that, as of Sept. 8, 117 individuals had been handed over to Congolese authorities while another 183 were being held at two MONUSCO-run facilities.

Congo’s government said that it was in talks with South Sudanese authorities over what will happen to the fighters.

Hundreds have been killed in battles that broke out in the world’s youngest nation in July between troops loyal to Machar and President Salva Kiir, his long-time political foe. Over 20,000 South Sudanese refugees have crossed into Congo this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Kiir publicly agreed last month to accept 4,000 additional U.N. peacekeepers to the 12,000-strong mission already on the ground but details of the deployment still need to be worked out.

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