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South Sudan rebel leader Machar back in Juba after two years

Ex-vice president Riek Machar returned for the first time since 2016 to take part in a peace ceremony.

Riek Machar

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar has returned to capital, Juba, more than two years after he fled the country after the collapse of a 2016 peace deal.

Machar, the former vice president, returned to Juba on Wednesday to take part in a peace ceremony.

Machar fled to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016. 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 Ethiopia in the latest attempt to end the five-year war.

"Machar will lead a delegation of the SPLM/A-IO members for the peace celebration in Juba, but the programme in Juba is entirely in the hands of the regime," group spokesperson Lam Paul Gabriel had said on Tuesday.

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.

"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," Gabriel said. 

Two years after gaining independence, South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013, when Kiir accused his then-deputy, Machar, of plotting a coup.

Ethnically-charged fighting soon spread from the capital across the impoverished state, shutting down oil fields, forcing millions to flee and killing tens of thousands of people.

A power-sharing deal that returned Machar to the vice presidency was signed in 2015. But it collapsed a year later in a deadly battle that saw Machar flee into exile.

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