GOMA, DR Congo, Nov 27 – Rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo will withdraw from the key city of Goma by the end of the week, their military chief said on Tuesday, after the group made a string of demands.
General Sultani Makenga told AFP the pullout from the capital of mineral-rich North Kivu province would be complete by Friday.
“Tomorrow or the day after … in three days at the latest we will leave Goma,” the M23 rebel leader said. “We were asked to withdraw 20 kilometres (12 miles) and we will do it, there is no problem.”
The deal was struck late on Monday in the capital of neighbouring Uganda between Makenga and regional military commanders, who will visit Goma on Friday to monitor progress of the promised withdrawal.
Among the rebels’ demands is freedom of movement for opposition standard-bearer Etienne Tshisekedi, 79, a former prime minister who has been under unofficial house arrest since declaring victory in flawed elections last year.
The vote was officially won by President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father in 2001.
The rebels, whose capture of Goma a week ago sparked fears of a broader conflict in the war-weary central African country, are also demanding direct talks with the president and the dissolution of the electoral commission.
The announcement follows earlier declarations by M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga that the rebels would withdraw only if the government met their demands.
But Ugandan army chief Aronda Nyakairima said Makenga had attached “no conditions” to the pullout.
The rebels had however raised concerns about the security of civilians in the areas they leave, he said.
“They are so concerned that maybe once they leave those areas some of their people will be killed,” Nyakairima said.
The M23, which is largely made up of ethnic Tutsis, mutinied in April and seized Goma a week ago in a rapid advance.
In just a week, the rebels expanded their area of control from one small corner of North Kivu province to cover almost the entire province, an area twice the size of Belgium and rich in diamonds and precious metals.
The new fighting, as well as reported atrocities including killings, rapes and abductions of civilians, has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in a spiralling humanitarian crisis.
Rebel military chief Makenga was slapped with UN and US sanctions last week over the alleged atrocities.