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DRC: M23 rebels pull out of town near Goma

The withdrawal follows weeks of sustained international presssure against Rwanda, which the United States and UN experts have accused of backing the rebels   -  
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Jerome Delay/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.

Democratic Republic Of Congo

The M23 rebellion announced on Friday that it had agreed to withdraw from Kibumba, one of its strategic positions at the gates of the provincial capital Goma, which it conquered at the end of October, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a statement.

After weeks of fighting with the Congolese army, "the M23 supports regional efforts and agrees to cede its positions in Kibumba to the responsibility of the EACRF (East African Community Regional Force)," the 23 March Movement (M23) said.

According to the communiqué, signed by Lawrence Kanyuka, the rebel movement's political spokesman, this is a "gesture of goodwill in the name of peace". A ceremony to which journalists are invited is planned for late morning, according to the document.

Since the relaunch of its offensive in October, the Tutsi rebellion of the M23 has conquered large swathes of territory in North Kivu, the Congolese province bordering Rwanda, causing a sharp rise in tension between Kinshasa and Kigali.

Kibumba came under M23 control in mid-November after intense fighting with the army, raising fears that Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu and a city of more than a million people, might be taken.

The announcement of the withdrawal from Kibumba comes at a time when the Rwandan army is accused of having conducted military operations in eastern Congo and of having provided "arms, ammunition and uniforms" to the M23 rebellion, according to a report by experts mandated by the United Nations, not yet published but consulted Thursday by AFP.

Kinshasa has accused Kigali of actively supporting the M23 and fighting alongside it, relations between the two neighbours are atrocious and the Rwandan ambassador has been expelled by the DRC. Kigali denies these accusations.

Among the various diplomatic initiatives launched to try to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC, a summit held a month ago in Luanda decided on a ceasefire on the evening of 25 November and envisaged a withdrawal of the M23 from the conquered areas two days later.

If not, the East African regional force being deployed in North Kivu would intervene to dislodge the rebels. But so far, the M23 has held its positions, while expanding the area under its control in places.

In its statement, the M23 expressed "its gratitude to regional leaders for their continued efforts to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict in eastern DRC".

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