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08-Dec-2012

     
 
 
DR Congo rebels begin pullout from frontline

By by Max Delany and Stephanie Aglietti (AFP)

SAKE, DR Congo — Hundreds of Congolese rebels withdrew Friday from frontline positions around Goma as promised under a regionally brokered deal, while police entered the key eastern city to take over control.

The M23 rebels, army mutineers who sparked international anger when they seized Goma last week in a lightning advance, have said they will withdraw 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the city, the main town in the Democratic Republic of Congo's mineral-rich east.

But even as rebel forces started to move from their positions, M23 military leader Sultani Makenga accused United Nations peacekeepers -- who the gunmen have said they will hand over territory to -- of "beginning to block" movement of rebel equipment out of Goma.

"We are waiting for the problem to be solved to withdraw," Makenga told AFP from Sake, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of Goma, where an AFP reporter saw rebels trekking down from steep hillside positions carrying packs and crates of ammunition.

However UN spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai said he was unaware of any blockage the peacekeepers could be responsible for.

Rebels are reported to have beefed up their force with heavy weaponry and ammunition seized from Congo's army which fled in disarray when the fighters seized Goma and surrounding settlements in the chronically volatile region.

Residents have reported seeing dozens of rebel trucks carrying food and ammunition trundling through the lush green hills on the shores of Lake Kivu toward Goma, pulling back past the wreckage of last week's fighting.

The pullout came as more than 270 Congolese policemen arrived in Goma's port, having crossed Lake Kivu from government-controlled Bukavu some 100 kilometres south, with the army vowing to enter the city the next day.

The policemen were due "to secure the city of Goma after the pullout of M23 rebels", said UN spokesman Mounoubai.

While the rebels still control Goma, Congo's army chief General Francois Olenga has said government troops will enter the city on Saturday.

"We will deploy our units tomorrow," Olenga told AFP. "A battalion will be posted in the city and a company will be posted at the airport."

The rebels' campaign has raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe and wider conflict erupting from Congo's east, the cradle of back-to-back wars that shook the country and embroiled other nations in the region from 1996 to 2003.

Under a pullout deal struck this week in Uganda with army chiefs from the 11-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), senior officers from the regional bloc are travelling to Goma to monitor the withdrawal.

Rebels, understood to be made up of some 1,500 fighters, will leave a company of 100 men at the airport alongside government troops, and neighbouring Tanzania is also expected to send a company of soldiers to the airport under the deal.

 Fears of looting

Decades of conflict between multiple militia forces -- as well as meddling by regional armies -- have ravaged Congo's east, which holds vast mineral wealth including copper, diamonds, gold and key mobile phone component coltan.

UN experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda -- which played active roles in DR Congo's 1996-2003 wars -- of supporting M23, a charge both countries deny.

Britain on Friday froze $33.7 million (25.9 million euros) in aid to Rwanda following "credible and compelling reports of Rwandan involvement with M23," International Development Secretary Justine Greening said, a move condemned by Kigali.

Civilians in Congo, many of whom have had to flee repeated rounds of fighting over several years, are suffering.

Aid agencies are struggling to cope with the newly displaced, with some 285,000 people having fled their homes since the rebels began their uprising in April.

Tensions too are high at how the potential arrival of the army and withdrawal of the rebels will play out, with residents fearful of new rounds of looting and reprisal attacks by the army.

Locals have told AFP that both M23 and the army are guilty of abuses.

The instability in DR Congo's east was exacerbated by the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when Hutus implicated in the killing of some 800,000 mostly Tutsi victims fled across the Congolese border after Tutsi leader Paul Kagame came to power.

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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DR Congo police in key city ahead of rebel pullout
GOMA, DR Congo (AFP)

Nearly 300 Democratic Republic of Congo police officers arrived early on Friday in Goma ahead of a scheduled rebel pullout from the key city in the mineral-rich region.

The policemen were due "to secure the city of Goma after the pullout of M23 rebels," Mondje Nounoubai, a spokesman for UN peacekeepers in the country, told AFP.

An AFP reporter in the city saw the arrival of more than 270 policemen out of a planned 450.

The M23 rebels seized Goma, the main city in the North Kivu province, last week.

Their lightning advance in the resource-rich but chronically volatile region sparked international concern of a wider conflict breaking out in the area.

The two wars that ravaged sub-Saharan Africa's largest country since the 1990s both began in the region.

 
 
DR Congo rebels start slow pullout from front line

By Max Delany (AFP)

GOMA, DR Congo — Congolese rebels said Thursday they were moving out of frontline positions in the resource-rich east, but the United Nations said there was still no major sign they were leaving the key city of Goma.

Fighters from the M23 rebels -- army mutineers whose uprising has sown fears of wider conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east -- were seen trucking equipment from frontline areas they had seized beyond Goma.

M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha told AFP the group would hand over the small but strategic frontline town of Sake on Friday to UN peacekeepers and regional officials, with the withdrawal from Goma, the lakeside capital of North Kivu province, following later.

Control of Goma -- some 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of Sake -- would be passed to the UN later the same day or "maybe the day after", he said.

"It is a process," he added.

But there was little sign of a major troop pullout on Thursday, and the UN said its mission in DR Congo would start aerial reconnaissance to monitor rebel positions.

"Reports indicate movements of small groups of M23 troops in and out of Goma but the mission has not yet been able to ascertain whether there is a net reduction of M23 troops in the city," said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

Ugandan army chief Aronda Nyakairima, who helped broker a deal with the M23 to leave Goma, said the reports he had indicated the rebels "are withdrawing and will withdraw."

The rebels have missed earlier deadlines to pull out of Goma and its surroundings after a lightning advance last week, but they claim now to be committed to the staggered withdrawal.

Residents reported seeing dozens of trucks carrying food and ammunition trundling through the lush green and rolling hills on the shores of Lake Kivu toward Goma, pulling back past the wreckage of last week's fighting.

But numbers of actual troops so far have been low, according to Goma residents on the road west out of the city, on which rebels would be expected to travel.

"Since yesterday I have seen some soldiers returning -- around 50 -- some in vehicles and some on motorbikes," said local official Marcel Kadede, sitting in his wooden shack, where a photograph of President Joseph Kabila proudly hung.

-- 'An undisciplined army' --

M23 commander Sultani Makenga reportedly commands some 1,500 fighters, according to a Western military source. He was hit with UN and United States sanctions last month over alleged killings, rapes and abductions committed by his men.

Makenga has said he will withdraw just 20 kilometres from Goma, the main settlement in the flashpoint Kivu region that abuts both Rwanda and Uganda.

Decades of conflicts between multiple militia forces -- as well as meddling by regional armies -- have ravaged the region, which holds vast mineral wealth, including copper, diamonds, gold and key mobile phone component coltan.

UN experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda -- who played active roles in back-to-back wars in DR Congo from 1996 to 2003 -- of supporting the M23, a charge both countries deny.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on the region's leaders to stop backing the rebels.

But civilians, many of whom have had to flee repeated rounds of fighting over several years, are suffering. Aid agencies are struggling to cope with the newly displaced, some 285,000 people having abandoned their homes since the rebels began their uprising in April.

"The humanitarian impact of this conflict in the eastern part of the country is devastating," Clinton said.

Rights groups and UN officials have accused the rebels of atrocities, and the government has ruled out any peace talks until the M23 quit Goma.

But residents in Goma appeared more concerned at what would happen when the Congolese army returned.

"They are an undisciplined army, they have done nothing to protect us," said Dunia, an electrician.

The rebels warned the army not to attack civilians after its withdrawal, and denied carrying out killings on its arrival in Goma.

"The M23 will not tolerate the slightest abuse against the innocent people in the territory handed over to the international community," the group said in a statement.

Locals have told AFP both the M23 and the army are guilty of abuses.

The instability in DR Congo's east has been exacerbated by the aftermath of the 1999 genocide in Rwanda, when Hutus implicated in the killing of some 800,000 mostly Tutsi victims fled across the Congolese border after Tutsi leader Paul Kagame came to power.

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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