Zimbabwean troops have begun Friday to pull out of the key diamond-mining town of Mbuji-Mayi in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo. Observers say the move is another important step toward ending Congo's four-year civil war.
Zimbabwe's withdrawal from Mbuji-Mayi is significant, diplomats say, because for years Zimbabwe has controlled activities in what is considered Congo's most important mining center.
Zimbabwe has been accused of extracting some of Congo's vast mineral wealth in exchange for supporting the Kinshasa government during its four-year battle with rebels.
The pullout from Mbuji-Mayi on Friday came as a result of peace accords signed earlier this year. The accords are part of the effort to end a war that has drawn in several nations in the region. Along with Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia stepped in on the side of the Congolese government. Uganda and Rwanda sent in troops to help the rebels of various factions.
Zimbabwe has been withdrawing troops from key towns in recent weeks. The number of Zimbabwean troops at one point reached 12,000, but Zimbabwean officials say 3,000 are now left in Congo.
The other significant withdrawal recently has been by Uganda, which last month pulled out most of its troops from the country.
Rwanda, which has the largest foreign military presence in Congo, has yet to begin withdrawing its estimated 20,000 troops as it agreed to do earlier this year.
Figures on the toll of what some refer to as Africa's World War are not clear. But some international aid agencies say deaths resulting mainly from hunger and disease as a consequence of the war in the former Zaire may number in the millions.