Eastern Congo’s M23 rebels retreat from occupied territory

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Eastern Congo’s M23 rebels retreated Friday from some of the territory it held, the group’s first with-drawal since it began seizing swaths of land more than a year ago.

The rebels left the Kibumba area and its positions were taken over by the East African Regional Force — a multinational force charged with protecting the area. This retreat is in line with an agreement made last month at a summit in Angola, Lawrence Kanyuka the M23’s political spokesman said in a statement.

Kibumba, in the Nyiragongo territory of Congo’s North Kivu province, has been held by the M23 since November and it was the closest that the rebels got to Goma, eastern Congo’s regional capital. Speaking to reporters Friday from Kibumba, Gen. Jeff Nyagah, commander of the East African force, called on the civilian population to return home promising that they would be safe.

“We are determined to conduct operations in strict compliance with international humanitarian law and other conventions,” he said. “We appreciate the complex nature of the operating environment but our zeal and determination remain undeterred.”

The M23 rebels are largely Congolese ethnic Tutsis who became prominent 10 years ago when their fighters seized Goma, eastern Congo’s largest city on the border with Rwanda. The group derives its name from a March 23, 2009, peace deal, which it accuses the Congo government of not implementing. The group has been largely dormant for nearly a decade.—AP