Tuesday November 27 2012

M23 rebels agree to pull out of Goma

By AFP

UPDATE: M23 Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to withdraw completely from the city of Goma by midday Thursday, Uganda's army chief said, after the group earlier set new demands for a pullout.

"By midday November 27 the M23 begins withdrawal through Goma to a selected ground of tactical importance, while leaving a company of 100 at the airport," Aronda Nyakairima told reporters.

"This withdrawal to be completed within 48 hours."

M23 military leader Sultani Makenga said the rebels would pull out by Friday.

"Tomorrow or the day after... in three days at the latest we will leave Goma," Makenga told AFP. "We were asked to withdraw 20 kilometres (12 miles) and we will do it, there is no problem."

The announcement follows earlier declarations by M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga that the rebels would only withdraw if the government met their demands, including dissolving the country's election commission.

However, Aronda said Makenga had attached "no conditions" to the withdrawal agreement, but had only raised concerns about the need for a formal ceasefire agreement and the security of the population in the areas they leave.

"They are so concerned that maybe once they leave those areas some of their people will be killed," Nyakairima added.

The deal in Uganda was struck late Monday with M23's military chief along with regional military commanders, who will visit Goma on Friday to monitor progress of the promised withdrawal.

"All the chiefs of the defence staff" of the 11-member bloc, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), "will convene in Goma to evaluate the situation to find out whether all these timelines were met, and whether there have been violations," Nyakairima said.

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UPDATE: The M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday they would only withdraw from Goma if the government meets their demands, despite earlier announcing they would pull out of the key eastern city.

The M23 wants the government to dissolve the country's election commission and ensure freedom of movement for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi among other demands "before a pullout", political leader Jean-Marie Runiga told a press conference in Goma.

"If that is done," he said, the M23 will leave Goma "very quickly."

A senior rebel commander had told AFP earlier that the M23 would withdraw from the city which the rebels captured a week ago, "in order to start negotiations with the government".

Regional leaders had called at a weekend summit in the capital of neighbouring Uganda for the rebels to quit the city by late Monday.

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Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday they would withdraw from Goma, a week after their capture of the key eastern city sparked fears of a new war in the volatile region.

Senior commander Colonel Antoine Manzi said the M23 fighters would comply with a request "to withdraw from Goma in order to start negotiations with the government."

The decision followed a midnight Monday deadline set by regional leaders to leave the city. The Congolese army had also threatened to remove the insurgents by force.

DR Congo's army chief, General Francois Olenga, had travelled to within 20 kilometres (12 miles) of rebel positions to inspect his troops and told AFP earlier Tuesday that they were "holding" their positions.

At a summit Saturday in Uganda's capital Kampala, regional heads of state gave the rebels 48 hours to withdraw to at least 20 kilometres outside Goma.

They also called on the DR Congo government to take steps to resolve the rebels' "legitimate grievances".

The rebels had refused to withdraw before holding direct talks with the government, which in turn refused to negotiate without a withdrawal.

The M23 was founded by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group whose members were integrated into the regular army under a 2009 peace deal they claim was never fully implemented.

They mutinied in April and seized Goma last week in a rapid advance that the army proved unable to stop despite backing from UN peacekeepers who deployed attack helicopters in a bid to hold back the M23.

The United Nations last week issued a damning report accusing Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of backing the rebels, who it says have murdered, raped and kidnapped civilians in their sweep across the east.

Both countries deny the allegations.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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