Congo rebels quit Goma, saying it's 'for peace'

Congo rebels

Hundreds of rebel fighters, singing and brandishing weapons, pulled out of Congo's eastern border city of Goma on Saturday, raising hopes for negotiations to end the insurgency. The withdrawal of the M23 rebel movement from Goma on Lake Kivu, a strategic hub in Democratic Republic of Congo's war-scarred east, was agreed in a deal brokered by presidents of the Great Lakes states under Uganda's leadership a week ago.

"M23 has been leaving Goma. By noon today, 750 M23 elements left Goma ... by close of business today they should have all left," Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, North Kivu office head for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) said.

Goma's fall on Nov. 20 to the Tutsi-led M23 insurgent group, which routed United Nations-backed government forces, triggered a diplomatic scramble to prevent a wider escalation of the eight-month-old rebellion in the conflict-prone region.

The rebels had said they would fight to topple Congo's President Joseph Kabila and march on the capital Kinshasa, 1,600 km (1,000 miles) to the west. U.N. experts accuse Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the revolt, a charge both strongly deny.

In the centre of Goma, blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay in white armoured vehicles watched as camouflage-clad M23 fighters scrambled on to the back of flatbed trucks with battered suitcases and other belongings before driving off.

RESIDENTS LINE STREETS

Residents lined the streets leading out of the city to watch as the truckloads of singing rebels drove out, heading for previously agreed positions 20 km (13 miles) north of Goma from which M23 launched its lightning offensive two weeks ago. On the dusty road by the U.N.-controlled airport, about 100 rebels trudged out of town on foot. Some of the trucks leaving Goma carried crates of captured munitions and military supplies. M23 military chief Sultani Makenga, who is under a U.N.-imposed assets freeze and travel ban for leading the revolt, told reporters the rebel withdrawal was in response to a request from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

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