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Congolese Government Troops Withdraw from Bukavu - 2004-06-02

Congolese government troops withdrew from the eastern city of Bukavu, after rebels loyal to renegade commanders attacked the troops. This is a blow to the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Government troops led by Brigadier General Mbuza Mabe withdrew to the outskirts of Bukavu after several hours of fighting with dissident soldiers on two fronts.

Several hundred renegade soldiers under the orders of Colonel Jules Mutebesi launched the attack in the early morning hours, while a column of 1000 rag-tag fighters led by another renegade commander, General Laurent Nkunda, was able to enter Bukavu.

Both dissident commanders are former Rwanda-backed rebel leaders from the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge group. They accuse the government soldiers of persecuting members of their ethnic group since deploying in Bukavu earlier this year.

Fighting in and around the city last week claimed at least 60 lives and forced thousands of civilians to flee to nearby Rwanda.

U.N. and Congolese officials have been trying to negotiate a cease-fire, but with little success.

Several hundred U.N. peacekeepers are deployed inside Bukavu, a city of about 500,000 people.

The U.N. spokesman in Bukavu, Sebastien Lapierre, said that the streets of the city are mostly deserted.

?U.N. forces are patrolling the town and downtown we have seen a few wandering soldiers, but mostly U.N. troops,? he said. ?The town is calm, there is no firing. Nkunda's troops have arrived in the city, but I think Mabe's troops have retired to the periphery, but it is not clear at this time who controls the town.?

Despite a peace agreement signed in 2003, Congolese and U.N. authorities have had difficulties containing sporadic outbreaks of violence in border areas.