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Democratic Republic of Congo - Congolese rebels on Saturday warned that they would battle to retake control in the country's troubled east if the government refused to halt its military offensive and begin negotiations.
The statement came a day after the M23 rebels - a group of army mutineers - announced a retreat from their positions following heavy fighting with the Congolese army which is backed by UN troops.
The rebels said their decision for a 'unilateral ceasefire' and withdrawal was aimed at “creating a favourable climate” for a “political solution to the crisis”.
However, they warned that they were not prepared to wait long for the government to reciprocate.
“We demand that the Congolese government return soon to the negotiating table to find a political solution to the crisis,” Bertrand Bisimwa, the political president of the M23 rebels, said in the statement.
“If the Congolese government pushes on with the military option to the detriment to the Kampala (peace) talks, our armed forces reserve the right to retake control” of positions just outside Goma.
Army spokesman Olivier Hamuli told AFP however that the rebels “did not withdraw, they were taken apart”.
Both the army and Congolese authorities have confirmed that they have regained control of Kibumba from the rebels, and have pushed the M23 out of the area located about 30 kilometres north of Goma.
The rebels captured eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's regional capital Goma in November, but pulled out 12 days later to just outside the city.
A bloc of regional countries later struck a deal with the rebels to withdraw to 20 kilometres outside of Goma, as a prerequisite to start peace talks which opened in December in the Ugandan capital Kampala but which have stalled.
Congolese authorities have said the rebels did not fulfill their end of the deal.
In late March, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to set up a brigade with a mandate to launch offensives against the rebels.
Together with the Congolese army, the UN troops launched an offensive on August 23 against the M23.
New fighting flared this week as UN troops joined the army in pounding rebel positions.
The military offensive also came amid fresh UN accusations that Rwandan troops are actively backing the rebels.
On Thursday, the UN said it had “consistent and credible reports” of Rwandan troops entering DR Congo to support the rebels, but Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has scotched the reports, in a brief comment made on Twitter.
“Rwandan troops are not in DRC (yet), when they are, you will know,” she wrote Friday, without giving further details.
Rwanda has always flatly denied supporting the M23, a predominantly ethnic-Tutsi force that deserted from the Congolese army last year to turn its guns on its comrade. - AFP