Congo rebels will withdraw from Goma

Congo M23 rebels say they will pull out of Goma to ‘liberate’ the whole country.

The head of the M23 rebel military forces, Brigadier-General Sultani Makenga leans on a car on November 25, 2012 on the grounds of a military residence in Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Picture: AFP.

GOMA - Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday they would pull out of the eastern city of Goma in an apparent stalling of their drive to "liberate" the whole country.

The situation on the ground remained far from clear after the rebels' political and military leaders gave conflicting statements over their intentions, though UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in New York "there were indications tonight that possibly the M23 elements were starting to withdraw."

"Of course that was already late in the evening, and that will have to be confirmed tomorrow," Ladsous told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council behind closed doors.

The eight-month insurgency has threatened to develop into an all-out war in a region dogged by nearly two decades of conflict that has killed more than 5 million people and is fuelled by competition over mineral resources.

The Ugandan military, which has coordinated talks with the M23 rebels, said earlier that M23 leader Colonel Sultani Makenga had agreed to a plan drawn up by regional heads of state for the rebels to leave Goma within 48 hours, with no conditions.

But the political head of M23, Jean-Marie Runiga, later told journalists in Goma they would withdraw from the city only if President Joseph Kabila agreed to their demands. The Congolese government dismissed the chances of this happening.

"There's no division, General Makenga has said that we'll withdraw, so that's what we're in the process of doing," deputy M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha told Reuters by telephone.

"If we withdraw the force, everyone leaves ... It's not contradictory (to Runiga's statement). He said we were prepared to withdraw from the town but that Kabila must listen to us."

Kabasha said the entire movement would head 20 km (12 miles) toward the town of Kibumba, directly north of the city.

Makenga confirmed the decision to pull out from Goma to Reuters by text message, without giving further details.

UN experts say the M23 rebels are backed by Rwanda. The rebels captured Goma last week after Congolese soldiers withdrew and UN peacekeepers gave up defending the city. Ladsous said the peacekeepers remained in control of the Goma airport.

Runiga had told reporters in Goma his forces would withdraw only if Kabila held national talks, released political prisoners and dissolved the electoral commission, a body accused by Western powers of delivering Kabila a second term in a flawed 2011 election.

He said Kabila's government was rotten with corruption, lamented the country's dilapidated roads and said Congo's only schools and hospitals had been left by Belgian former colonial rulers. He said any talks would have to tackle such issues.

"We are fighting to find solutions to Congo's problems. Withdrawal from Goma is not a precondition to negotiations but a result of them," Runiga had said.