Col. Sultani Makenga of M23 with stick in middle of photograph. The M23 are defectors from the Democratic Republic of Congo army. They have seized several towns in the East., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Congolese mutineers withdraw from key eastern town
Tue Jul 10, 2012 2:37AM
Rebels have withdrawn from one of the key towns they seized from the army last week in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UN peacekeepers said the March 23 movement (M23) rebel fighters had pulled out of Rutshuru, a strategic town in the mineral-rich province of North Kivu, as well as the nearby villages of Kiwanja and Rubare.
An M23 colonel, Vianney Kazarama, told Reuters on Monday, "We are now back in our old bases. We have left the police and (the UN) there for the protection of the population."
"(The rebels) abandoned their positions in town and moved to the surrounding mountains," Rutshuru resident Lucien Amoli said.
Rebel leader Colonel Sultani Makenga said on Sunday that the M23 rebels had captured Rubare, Rutshuru, Kalengera, and Kako. He added that the seized towns would be handed over to United Nations peacekeepers and the police.
However, late in the day the rebels issued a statement warning the Congolese army against returning to the towns. Any such effort, the statement added, would be "immediately and energetically repressed."
Since early May, as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes. Most of them have resettled inside Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
The rebels, known as the March 23 movement, defected from the Congolese army in April in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
The mutiny is being led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a charge of recruiting child soldiers.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on for over a decade and left over 5.5 million people dead.