NAIROBI - South Sudan's wanted opposition leader Riek Machar on Wednesday denied government accusations he tried to stage a coup, saying the president was using the claim as an excuse to purge political rivals.
"What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division, it was not a coup attempt," Machar told the Paris-based Sudan Tribune news website, in his first public comments since fighting broke out on Sunday.
Troops loyal to President Salva Kiir have been fighting rival followers of Machar, his former vice president. Kiir has accused the rival camp of staging a coup.
"I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt," Machar said, speaking from an undisclosed location to the website's London-based reporter.
Machar is one of five senior leaders on the run from government forces.
However, several sources suggest he is likely to be still in Juba, although his house has been the scene of heavy fighting.
Ten other leaders, including several former ministers, have already been arrested.
Machar said he wanted to change the nature of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, but had been blocked by Kiir.
"What we wanted was to democratically transform the SPLM," Machar added.
"But Salva Kiir wanted to use the alleged coup attempt in order to get rid of us to control the government and the SPLM. We don't want him (as) the president of South Sudan any more."