Rwanda has issued orders for the withdrawal of its forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to begin on Tuesday, the United Nations peacekeeping mission headquartered in Kinshasa reported on Monday.
The UN mission, known as MONUC, received on Monday a copy of a letter sent by Maj Gen James Kabarebe, Acting Army Chief of Staff of Rwanda, to Rwandan military commanders in the DRC, ordering them to withdraw from their current positions.
The letter also ordered the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) to grant MONUC, the Joint Military Commission, and the Third Party Verification Mechanism monitors freedom of movement and protection in order to permit effective verification of the withdrawal.
Speaking to Radio Rwanda on Monday, Joseph Mutaboba, secretary general in the Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation, said the RPA would begin by withdrawing two battalions - about 1,800 men - from the eastern city of Kindu, capital of Maniema Province, located some 400 km west of the Rwandan border.
As for what other towns would be affected by withdrawal, Mutaboba told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that "it would depend on how fast we get the logistics to carry out the withdrawal".
As for how many men would be withdrawn from the DRC, Mutaboba told RFI he was "not in a position" to say.
Regional analysts, however, have estimated the number of Rwandan forces in the DRC as being between 30,000 to 40,000.
The withdrawal order follows the signing of an accord by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and DRC President Joseph Kabila in Pretoria, South Africa, on 30 July. That agreement commits Rwanda to withdrawing its troops from the DRC in exchange for Kinshasa taking measures to address security concerns in the DRC, in particular the dismantling of the former Rwandan army (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe Hutu militias, who fled to the DRC following their involvement in the massacre of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.
The UN has estimated the number of ex-FAR and Interahamwe in DRC as being between 10,000 to 20,000.
Speaking to RFI on Monday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for the DRC Peace Process, Moustapha Niasse, called Rwanda's announcement "an excellent piece of news" and "a sign of goodwill". He urged the international community to support this willingness to withdraw by contributing to efforts toward the demobilisation and disarmament of forces of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe.
Speaking to the United Nations' Radio Okapi in DRC on Monday, Annan's Special Representative to the DRC, Amos Namanga Ngongi, echoed Niasse's call, insisting on the need for more troops to bolster the MONUC force given the critical role it needed to play in acting as a liaison with armed groups deemed to be a threat to Rwandan security.
For his part, Azarias Ruberwa, secretary general of the Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) armed opposition movement, told Voice of America (VOA) radio that the RCD would occupy and take control of all territory vacated by the RPA. Furthermore, he called on Zimbabwe and Angola, who back Kabila, to withdraw all of their remaining forces from the DRC. He added that the RCD would become a purely political movement once an all-inclusive power-sharing accord was reached in the DRC, and the army unified.
Meanwhile, DRC Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu told VOA on Monday that the Rwandan withdrawal would facilitate Kinshasa's efforts to identify and disarm the ex-FAR and Interahamwe, who were "taking advantage of the confusion created by the [Rwandan] occupation in order to be operational". He said that he was willing to bet "on the withdrawal of all foreign forces from DRC territory" by the end of this year.
Niasse also expressed optimism for prospects of a power-sharing accord being reached soon among the Congolese.
"We think that in six to eight weeks, we should finish elaborating the global and all-inclusive accord of which we have the 90 percent of components involved," he said. "The 10 percent remaining only involve a few adjustments in order to obtain a text that will satisfy all our interlocutors."
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who met with DRC President Joseph Kabila in Brussels on Monday, said that he, too, was optimistic that an all-inclusive power-sharing accord could be reached by the Congolese by the end of this year.
"We are in the homestretch of reaching agreement among all parties, armed or not. While different scenarios [for a power-sharing government] exist, the points of view [of the various parties] are very close to one another", Belgian daily newspaper 'La Derniere Heure' quoted him as saying. It added that Verhofstadt indicated that once such an accord were reached, Belgium would be willing to increase the financial aid it provides to the DRC.
From Brussels, Kabila traveled to Jordan on an official visit to reinforce bilateral relations. Jordanian news agency Petra reported that this was Kabila's first visit to a middle eastern country since he assumed power in early 2001.