DR Congo rebels make demands for exit
01:30 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: U.N. Security Council extends sanctions against rebel groups in Congo until 2014

M23 Rebels are seen packing, but giving mixed signals about leaving

Regional leaders and the African Union called on the M23 to begin a withdrawal Tuesday

The rebels want to talk with the Congolese president about breaches of a 2009 peace treaty

CNN  — 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s M23 rebel movement appeared to be starting to withdraw from the eastern city of Goma after defying a deadline set by regional leaders, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

The M23 forces will pull back to a position about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Goma, officers and soldiers from the group told CNN.

They will also leave a 100-strong contingent at the city’s airport, as foreseen under a plan drawn up by African leaders who convened in neighboring Uganda over the weekend, the M23 officers and soldiers said.

The rebels will keep their administration in Goma, they added.

Goma is a key city in the eastern part of the country that rebels seized last week after days of fighting with government forces. It remained calm Wednesday morning as people sought to go about their normal business.

On Wednesday evening, M23 rebels were seen packing their equipment to possibly move out of Goma, but the group continued to give mixed signals about whether they would go.

The M23 helped orchestrate a rally of mostly young men to show who supported the group.

Several hundred protesters carried placards calling for President Joseph Kabila to stand down and saying “yes to the revolution.” Some complained about tribal discrimination.

Humanitarian groups have warned of an impending crisis in the area.

More than 140,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. refugee agency, on top of those already forced from their homes by previous rounds of fighting in the volatile region.

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African leaders who convened in neighboring Uganda over the weekend released a statement demanding that the M23 group withdraw at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Goma as a condition of initiating negotiations. The Great Lakes region leaders called on the rebels to “stop all war activities,” and “stop talk of overthrowing an elected government.”

It also called on the Congolese government to listen to the rebels’ grievances and to seek to resolve them.

The U.N. Security Council added its own demands Wednesday, condemning any outside forces supporting M23 and not impeding the flow of weapons in the area.

The Security Council also extended the arms embargo and other sanctions imposed against armed rebel groups in the Congo, while expressing its intention to consider additional targeted sanctions against the leadership of the M23. The sanctions, which were imposed in 2003 as the civil war in Congo ended, will be extended until February 1, 2014.

The Council also asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to renew the mandate of the group of experts monitoring these measures until February 1, 2014.

The group was named for a peace deal reached on March 23, 2009, which it accuses the government of violating.

Its demands include the release of political prisoners, the investigation of alleged targeted killings in the country, the dismissal of the national election commission and the examination of the results of last year’s election.

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Over the weekend, the Great Lakes region leaders hatched a plan that calls for an integrated force being deployed for an initial period of three months at Goma airport. It would include a 100-strong neutral force, which would be in command, 100 troops from the Congolese army and 100 members of the M23.

The Congolese army should be back on the streets of Goma on Thursday, according to the proposal.

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M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga, who earlier said that the rebels would hold their ground until negotiations started with the Congolese government and their conditions were met, appeared to soften his stance Wednesday.

He said withdrawal was possible out of respect for the calls from regional leaders.

Runiga said that the rebels wanted to sit down and discuss the March 23 agreement with civil society, the government and a broad spectrum of the Congolese people to come up with lasting solutions on good governance, democracy, the economy and security.

Runiga said the M23 would maintain a humanitarian corridor, and he called on people to respect the role of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping force in the region mandated to protect civilians.

MONUSCO forces took a back seat as army forces battled the rebels for control of the city last week.

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Col. Olivier Hamuli, a Congolese army spokesman, said the armed forces were awaiting guidance from the government and would abide by a cease-fire until they were told to do otherwise.

But, he added: “The mandate of MONUSCO is to protect civilians. It is not to fight the M23 on its own. That is the responsibility of the Congolese armed forces, and the maintaining of security is the primary responsibility of the Congolese police.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday that aid groups had been able to resume deliveries to sites around Goma over the weekend, after fighting caused days of disruption. The U.N. refugee agency said it was trying to reach 110,000 people with supplies of food, soap and water containers.

Many of those who have fled to refugee camps around Goma are in urgent need of shelter and clean water, the UNHCR said.

“Sanitary conditions remain a major challenge due to the lack of toilets and water supply points,” it said. Cases of vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory infections have already been recorded, it said, with the last due to people having to sleep outside without shelter from the rain.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen far more than its share of violence over the decades. Civil wars – most recently in the 1990s through 2003 – have left millions dead across the country and displaced entire generations.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Christine Theodorou and Brian Walker contributed to this report.