Congo Rebels Say They Will Leave Captured Goma
More than 140,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence
David McKenzie CNN
November 28, 2012(CNN) -- Members of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's M23 rebel movement said Wednesday they would withdraw from the captured city of Goma in line with a demand by regional leaders and the African Union.
The M23 forces will pull back to a position 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Goma, officers and soldiers from the group told CNN. There were no immediate signs of movement.
They will also leave a 100-strong contingent at the city's airport, as foreseen under a plan drawn up by African leaders who convened in neighboring Uganda over the weekend, the M23 officers and soldiers said.
The rebels will keep their administration in Goma, they added.
The city remained calm Wednesday morning as people sought to go about their normal business.
Goma is a key city in eastern DR Congo that rebels seized last week after days of fighting with government forces.
A U.N. official said late Tuesday that the rebels appeared to be starting to withdraw from Goma after defying a deadline set by regional leaders under which they were supposed to leave by midnight Monday.
"There were indications tonight that possibly the M23 elements were starting to withdraw," Herve Ladsous, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, told reporters at the world body's headquarters in New York. "There were indications, but of course that was already late the evening, and that will have to be confirmed tomorrow."
Humanitarian groups have warned of an impending crisis in the area.
More than 140,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence, according to the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, on top of those already forced from their homes by previous rounds of fighting in the volatile region.
African leaders who convened in Uganda over the weekend demanded that the M23 group withdraw from Goma as a condition of initiating negotiations. The Great Lakes region leaders called on the rebels to "stop all war activities," and "stop talk of overthrowing an elected government."
It also called on the Congolese government to listen to the rebels' grievances and to seek to resolve them.
The group was named for a peace deal reached on March 23, 2009, which it accuses the government of violating.
Its demands include the release of political prisoners, the investigation of alleged targeted killings in the country, the dismissal of the national election commission and the examination of the results of last year's election.
Ugandan Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, speaking in Kampala on Tuesday, outlined details of the plan agreed by the Great Lakes region leaders over the weekend.
It calls for an integrated force being deployed for an initial period of three months at Goma airport. It would include a 100-strong neutral force, which would be in command, 100 troops from the Congolese army, and 100 members of the M23, Nyakairima said.
Two military observers would also be deployed from each of the neighboring regional powers, while MONUSCO would be responsible for securing a buffer zone, he said.
The deadlines stipulated under the plan outlined by Nyakairima have already slipped, with the M23 group supposed to have begun its withdrawal from Goma by noon on Tuesday. The withdrawal is meant to be complete within 48 hours, save for the force of 100 to be left at the airport.
The Congolese army should be back on the streets of Goma on Thursday, according to the proposal.
M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga told reporters in Goma on Tuesday that the rebels would hold their ground until negotiations started with the Congolese government and their conditions were met.
Runiga said that the rebels wanted to sit down and discuss the March 23 agreement with civil society, the government and a broad spectrum of the Congolese people to come up with lasting solutions on good governance, democracy, the economy and security.
Runiga said the M23 would maintain a humanitarian corridor and called on people to respect the role of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping force in the region mandated to protect civilians.
MONUSCO forces took a back seat as army forces battled the rebels for control of the city last week.
Runiga also warned that if President Joseph Kabila and his government did not want to negotiate, the rebels would push on to South Kivu and the capital, Kinshasa, where they would overthrow the government by force. The M23 group has made similar threats in the past.
Congo Information Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga, in Kinshasa, described the M23 response as "really childish," and said they did not appear to be taking the situation seriously, "which makes them very dangerous."
He accused the rebels of being "busy looting Goma," adding that they have pillaged public buildings and hospitals and tried to break into a bank.
Omalanga said the Congolese government is evaluating the effectiveness of MONUSCO in light of the peacekeepers' response to the rebels' seizure of Goma.
The government is not jumping to conclusions, Omalanga said, but he added: "They don't have an appropriate mandate -- this must absolutely change if the U.N. wants it to be effective in Congo."
Congolese army spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli said the armed forces were awaiting guidance from the government and would abide by a cease-fire until they were told to do otherwise.
The United Nations has called on the rebels to lay down their arms and withdraw immediately from Goma.
The UNHCR said Tuesday that aid groups had been able to resume deliveries to sites around Goma over the weekend, after fighting caused days of disruption.
The body said it was trying to reach 110,000 people with supplies of food, soap and water containers.
Many of those who have fled to refugee camps around Goma are in urgent need of shelter and clean water, the UNHCR said.
"Sanitary conditions remain a major challenge due to the lack of toilets and water supply points," it said. Cases of vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory infections have already been recorded, it said, with the last due to people having to sleep outside without shelter from the rain.
DR Congo has seen far more than its share of violence over the decades. Civil wars -- most recently in the 1990s through 2003 -- have left millions dead across the country and displaced entire generations.
CNN's Laura Smith-Spark, Christine Theodorou and Brian Walker contributed to this report.