Move follows deal brokered by neighbouring countries and brings 10-day occupation by M23 fighters to an end
Rebels have withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern city of Goma, following an agreement brokered by neighbouring countries, according to a UN official.
On Saturday, hundreds of M23 fighters packed into trucks and headed in the direction of Kibumba, 20km north of the city, bringing an end to their 10-day occupation of Goma, which they seized control of on 20 November.
The rebels’ pullout follows an agreement reached in the Ugandan capital Kampala last week between M23 leaders and representatives from nations bordering DCR.
On Friday, rebels had unsuccessfully attempted to commandeer arms belonging to the Congolese military, which are stored in Goma’s international airport, said Sy Koumbo, a spokesman for the UN mission in Congo, which controls the airport.
“An agreement was reached yesterday over the ammunitions issue,” he said. “We did not give them the ammunition. It seems they are leaving now”.
Ugandan Brig Jeffrey Muheesi, who is part of a mission sent by regional leaders to oversee the rebel retreat, said on Saturday that the withdrawal from Goma was complete. He added that Congolese police were now controlling the bank, the governor’s office and the border post.
M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, are believed to have between 1,200 and 6,000 rebel fighters in their ranks. They captured Goma following eight months of bloody insurgency across the region, which observers feared would escalate into full-blown war in the region.
A recent UN report provided “credible and compelling” evidence of neighbouring Rwanda bankrolling the M23 rebels, who are fighting government troops. Analysts believe M23 are fighting over DRC’s extensive mineral wealth, much of which is located in the North Kivu province, where Goma is the capital.
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, denies the allegations but M23’s withdrawal from Goma comes a day after the British government announced that it would freeze aid to Rwanda following the allegations.
On Friday, Britain’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, announced that the government would hold back £21m that goes directly to the Kigali government, which was due to be released in January.
In July, Britain withheld £16m in aid, but the money was controversially restored by Greening’s predecessor Andrew Mitchell in September on his last day in office at DfID.
Violence in DRC has led to the displacement of almost half a million people in eastern Congo, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.