GOMA, Congo — Rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda completed their retreat from Congo's eastern provincial capital on Saturday, less than two weeks after taking control of the strategic city, a military official said.
The retreat, however, may be tentative after a leader for the M23 rebels said they now wanted to negotiate with the government within 48 hours.
"Now we are waiting for the negotiations," said Gen. Sultani Makenga as he left Goma.
Ugandan Brig. Jeffrey Muheesi, who is part of a mission sent by regional leaders to oversee the rebel retreat, said the rebels' pullout from Goma was complete.
The M23 rebels took the capital of North Kivu on Nov. 20, after battling the Congolese army for nearly a day. The group had defied two earlier ultimatums to leave Goma, raising the possibility they did not intend to leave and giving credence to a U.N. report accusing Rwanda of using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in the mineral-rich eastern Congo.
The eight-month-old M23 rebellion is led by fighters from a now-defunct rebel group who agreed to lay down their arms on March 23, 2009, in return for being allowed to join the ranks of the Congolese army. M23 takes its name from the date of that accord, and the rebellion began in April, when hundreds of soldiers defected from the military, saying that the terms of the accord had not been respected.
In fact, most analysts believe the origin of the rebellion is a fight over Congo's vast mineral wealth, a good chunk of which is found in the North Kivu province, where Goma is the capital.
The regional bloc representing the nations bordering Congo had issued a Friday deadline for the M23 fighters to leave Goma.