Rebel troops begin withdrawal from Lubero, says MONUC

Forces of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) rebel movement have begun to withdraw from the town of Lubero of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in accordance with a recent North Kivu Province ceasefire agreement, the UN Mission in the country, known as MONUC, reported on Wednesday.

MONUC spokesman Hamadoun Toure told a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa, that the withdrawal began on Tuesday at 7:00 am to 15 km outside Lubero, as had been agreed upon during ceasefire negotiations on 19 June in Bujumbura, Burundi, between the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma and the RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K/ML), a rebel group allied with Kinshasa.

"We hope that this withdrawal will contribute to the easing of tension in the region," Toure said. "The time for fighting has passed, it is time now for reconciliation, discussion and dialogue."

He said he hoped RCD-Goma would also respect prior disengagement agreements that had been signed in the Ugandan and Zimbabwean capitals of Kampala and Harare.

"We hope that [RCD-Goma] will not take advantage of unforeseen circumstances in order to return to Lubero," he said. "All efforts are being made to ensure that RCD-Goma returns to its original positions."

Fighting between RCD-Goma and RCD-K/ML erupted in North Kivu in April.

The North Kivu ceasefire agreement risked being undermined by the capture of Lubero by RCD-Goma on the day the accord was signed. RCD-Goma alleged that government troops together with Rwandan Hutu militias known as "Interahamwe" had attacked RCD-Goma positions, while Kinshasa and RCD-K/ML said that the Rwandan Patriotic Army had launched the offensive.

Toure meanwhile announced the departure on Tuesday of outgoing MONUC head Amos Namanga Ngongi, after nearly two years at the helm. Ngongi's successor, US diplomat William Lacy Swing, is due to arrive on Saturday.