Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday they would withdraw from Goma, a week after their capture of the key eastern city sparked fears of a new war in the volatile region.
Senior commander Colonel Antoine Manzi said the M23 fighters would comply with a request “to withdraw from Goma in order to start negotiations with the government”.
The decision followed a midnight Monday deadline set by regional leaders to leave the city. The Congolese army had also threatened to remove the insurgents by force.
DR Congo’s army chief, General Francois Olenga, had travelled to within 20 kilometres of rebel positions to inspect his troops and told reporters earlier on Tuesday that they were “holding” their positions.
At a summit on Saturday in Uganda’s capital Kampala, regional heads of state gave the rebels 48 hours to withdraw to at least 20 kilometres outside Goma.
They also called on the DR Congo government to take steps to resolve the rebels’ “legitimate grievances”.
The rebels had refused to withdraw before holding direct talks with the government, which in turn refused to negotiate without a withdrawal.
The M23 was founded by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group whose members were integrated into the regular army under a 2009 peace deal they claim was never fully implemented.
They mutinied in April and seized Goma last week in a rapid advance that the army proved unable to stop despite backing from UN peacekeepers who deployed attack helicopters in a bid to hold back the M23.
The United Nations last week issued a damning report accusing Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of backing the rebels, who it says have murdered, raped and kidnapped civilians in their sweep across the east.
Both countries deny the allegations.