GOMA, Congo — Rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda began retreating from the territory they seized last week and pulled out of the region of Masisi, their military leader said Wednesday, in the first concrete sign that international pressure has stemmed the advance of the fighters.
Gen. Sultani Makenga, the military chief for the eight-month-old rebellion known as M23, said that his fighters intend to abide by an ultimatum issued by neighboring nations that called for their withdrawal from Goma by Friday. He said he had ordered his fighters to retreat along the southeastern axis from Masisi to Goma, and they will then leave Goma via the northern route to Rutshuru.
“My soldiers began to retreat from Masisi yesterday. We will go via Goma and then after that we will retreat to 12 miles past Goma toward Rutshuru," Makenga told The Associated Press on Friday. “I think that by Friday we will be able to complete this."
The M23 rebel group is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April. Since then they have occupied numerous villages and towns in mineral-rich eastern Congo, culminating in the seizing of the crucial, provincial capital of Goma last week. Although they claim to be fighting because the Congolese government has not upheld their end of a March 23, 2009 peace deal, an in-depth report by the United Nations Group of Experts says that M23 is a Rwandan proxy fighting in order to control eastern Congo’s lucrative mines.
Congo’s government spokesman Lambert Mende, who is based in the country’s capital over 1,000 miles to the west, confirmed that they had received reports of troops pulling out of Masisi.