Congo rebels withdraw forces from two towns

 Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have started withdrawing from two towns captured from government troops, following a deal brokered by Uganda, their military leader said on Wednesday.

That would mean the M23 rebel group were giving up gains from a lightning offensive carried out in the past week, but there was no indication they were ending their eight-month-old insurgency.

The revolt against Congo’s government has raised the risk of all-out war in a borderlands region dogged by nearly two decades of conflict that has killed about 5 million people and is fuelled by competition over mineral resources.

“We’re leaving Sake, we’re leaving Masisi,” Sultani Makenga said in rebel-held Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. “Goma will be later,” he said, adding fighters would eventually pull back 20 km from the city.

Ugandan military chief Aronda Nyakayirima said on Tuesday after a meeting with Makenga that M23 had agreed to withdraw from Goma unconditionally. But M23's political leader Jean Marie Runiga initially cast doubt on the deal, saying the pull-out was contingent on a list of demands - including direct talks with President Joseph Kabila.

The rebels captured Goma on November20 after Congolese soldiers withdrew and UN peacekeepers gave up defending the city. U.N. experts and the Congolese government have said the M23 rebels are backed by Rwanda, a charge denied by Kigali.

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