Congo M23 rebels say withdrawing forces

Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:28am EST
 
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By Jonny Hogg

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have started withdrawing from towns captured since last week from government troops, following a deal brokered by Uganda, their military leader said on Wednesday.

Such a pull-out would mean the M23 rebel group was giving up gains from a lightning offensive carried out in the past week, but there was no indication they were ending their eight-month-old insurgency.

The rebellion, which U.N. experts say is backed by neighboring Rwanda, has raised the risk of all-out war in a borderlands region dogged by nearly two decades of conflict that has killed about 5 million people and is fuelled by competition over mineral resources.

"We're leaving Sake, we're leaving Masisi," Sultani Makenga told Reuters in rebel-held Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. "Goma will be later," he said, adding fighters would eventually pull back 20 km from the city.

"We want peace," Makenga said. "We're prepared for the return of government troops, they're going to come ... But if Kabila's troops harass the people we're prepared to come back in, we're just around the corner," he said.

Ugandan military chief Aronda Nyakayirima said on Tuesday after a meeting with Makenga that M23 had agreed to withdraw from Goma unconditionally. But M23's political leader Jean Marie Runiga initially cast doubt on the deal, saying the pull-out was contingent on a list of demands - including direct talks with President Joseph Kabila.

The mixed messages from Makenga and Runiga could be a sign of divisions within the movement, according to analyst Jason Stearns at independent think-tank the Rift Valley Institute.

"This is a military movement with a political wing created post facto ... it's undermined internal cohesion," he said.   Continued...

 
Leader of the March 23 Movement (M23) Jean-Marie Runiga addresses the media in Goma November 27, 2012. Rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday they would withdraw from the eastern city of Goma if President Joseph Kabila agreed to their demands, which the Congolese government was quick to dismiss as a farce. REUTERS/James Akena