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Congo M23 rebels withdraw from Goma

M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have completely withdrawn from Goma, 11 days after seizing the strategic border city.

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A rebel outside Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this month. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

Fighters from the M23 rebel movement have withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of Congo's border city of Goma, raising hopes for peace.

Reuters reported that the rebels sang and brandished weapons as they left the city Saturday. There were reports of looting of small shops and homes.

"We are leaving for peace," said the M23's military chief, Gen. Sultani Makenga.

The withdrawal is part of a deal brokered by leaders of the Great Lakes states a week ago, with Uganda's help. The rebels will settle in Kibati, just 9 miles from Goma.

The BBC said the rebels were seen boarding trucks and heading out of the city, which they had seized 11 days earlier from government troops backed by UN peacekeepers.

The eight-month uprising, started by fighters who deserted the Congolese army in April, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people

Both Rwanda and Uganda strongly deny UN accusations that they have been backing the M23 rebels.

More on GlobalPost: Q & A: Brief history of a long conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Associated Press noted the retreat from Goma may be tentative, with a leader of the rebels saying they want to negotiate with the government within 48 hours.

"Now we are waiting for the negotiations, within 48 hours," Gen. Makenga, told the AP as he left Goma. "If the government wants, we will come back."

A day before the withdrawal, rebels tried to force their way into Goma's international airport to seize arms belonging to the Congolese military.

Ugandan Gen. Aronda Nyakairima said the regional leaders' plan towards peace includes an integrated force being stationed at the Goma airport for three months, according to CNN.

He added that military observers from neighboring regional powers would be deployed, while the UN peacekeepers would be responsible for securing a buffer zone outside Goma.

More on GlobalPost: UN extends arms embargo on Congo rebels

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/121201/congo-m23-rebels-withdraw-goma