South Sudan’s former rebel leader and ex-vice president Riek Machar has escaped to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo following violent clashes last month, officials said Thursday.

His precise whereabouts remained unclear but a United Nations spokesman confirmed his presence in the country.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Congolese authorities had asked the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission there to help transfer Machar and his family from a location near the border with South Sudan to elsewhere in DR Congo.

“MONUSCO (the UN’s mission in DR Congo) became aware yesterday of the presence of Riek Machar in DRC and the DRC authorities requested MONUSCO to facilitate his extraction and transfer,” Haq told reporters in New York.

“He has been handed over to the DRC authorities,” he said, adding that the transfer was done for “humanitarian reasons” and “with his consent”.

“We have provided him with whatever medical assistance he needs,” Haq said, declining to give further details.

The UN mission in South Sudan had “no involvement” in Machar’s departure, he added.

A source close to the matter told AFP that Machar could be in the northern city of Kisangani, but there was no official confirmation.

The UN spokesman said the agency did not know

A statement from Machar’s SPLM-IO party said the leader had been “evacuated to a safe country within the region” without naming Congo.

A party source had earlier told AFP that Machar was in the Congolese capital Kinshasa but wanted “to go as soon as possible to Ethiopia”.

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused Machar, then his deputy, of plotting a coup. The fighting has split the world’s newest country along ethnic lines and driven it to the brink of collapse.