Kigali - Rwanda announced on Friday it was pulling out 280 of its soldiers from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where they had been working with DR Congo troops fighting rebel militia there.

“Following consultations with the DRC and MONUSCO (the UN mission there), Rwanda is withdrawing two companies of its special forces...,” said a Rwandan defence ministry statement.

They had been operating in Rutshuru, Nord Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda. The soldiers would be back on Rwanda soil by Saturday, the statement added.

While the statement did not give precise numbers, a company is normally made up of around 140 soldiers.

In Kinshasa, a military spokesman confirmed the news to AFP.

The authorities in DR Congo had told Rwanda they wanted their troops to leave, said Congolese Defence Minister Alexandre Luba Ntamabo.

They were no longer needed to combat the forces active in the region, he added.

Recent summit meetings of the countries in the Great Lakes region, which include Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and DR Congo, agreed in principle to deploy a “neutral force” of several thousand soldiers in the region. Their task will be to stamp out the activities of the militias plaguing the eastern DR Congo.

Rwandan army spokesman General Joseph Nzabamwita said they had agreed on the pull-out following clashes earlier this year between Congolese troops and the rebels of the M23 movement.

DR Congo accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, fighters from an earlier rebel movement, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), who had been integrated into the Congolese army in 2009 after a peace deal.

They mutinied, claiming that Kinshasa had failed to respect the terms of that deal.

A UN report published in June also said there was ample evidence that Rwanda was actively involved in the M23 rebellion, a claim that Kigali has repeatedly denied.

The announcement of this withdrawal is being seen by some advisers as a bid to ease the tension between the two countries.

The Rwandan troops had been working with their Congolese counterparts since early 2009. - Sapa-AFP