October 4, 2018 / 6:53 PM / 11 days ago

Last of South Sudan rebels in Congo exile leave for home, third countries - U.N.

JUBA/KINSHASA (Reuters) - The last remaining group of South Sudanese rebels who had been in exile in Democratic Republic of Congo have left to return home or third country destinations, a rebel spokesman and the United Nations said on Thursday.

A relapse into war in July 2016 between forces of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to a flight of rebels from the capital Juba. Hundreds fled to the jungles of neighbouring Congo where they sought out the protection of United Nations peacekeepers.

Last month, however, the warring sides signed another peace deal that is expected to end the fighting and return a measure of order and security to Africa’s youngest nation.

A rebel spokesman and the United Nations said the exiles had over several months been repatriated to South Sudan or moved to neighbouring states including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

The rebels stayed in a U.N. camp in Congo’s southeastern city of Goma on the border with Rwanda.

“Today the last 12 remaining members left the camp for several destinations including South Sudan,” said Florence Marchal, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo MONUSCO.

The 12 were among a total of 744 rebels who fled to Congo and eventually sought U.N. protection.

War erupted in South Sudan in 2013, triggered by a political disagreement between Kiir and Machar. A peace pact in 2015 briefly halted the violence before mutual suspicions sparked renewed fighting the following year.

Additional Reporting by Sabiti Djaffar in Goma; writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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