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Renegade DRC Commander to Withdraw Forces from Eastern City - 2004-06-06

The renegade commander who seized the eastern city of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo says he is withdrawing his troops.

The commander of a group of dissident soldiers who took control of the town of Bukavu on Wednesday, General Laurent Nkunda, says he has agreed to withdraw his troops.

"I am leaving the town now," he said. "I am out of the town, around 20 kilometers from the town of Bukavu, around Kavumu airport."

General Nkunda says he decided to withdraw after receiving several phone calls on Saturday, from the Belgian Foreign Ministry and from officials of the DRC, urging him to relinquish control.

"All those persons asked me to leave the town, to allow them, in the meeting they are going to have today and tomorrow, to take some discussion who can pick up the tension," said General Nkunda.

Previously, General Nkunda said he would not leave the town, until a government commission came to investigate reports of persecution of the Banyamulenge, a minority ethnic tribe related to the Tutsis.

Because of this and previous broken promises, U.N. spokesman Sebastien Lapierre is skeptical of General Nkunda's promise to withdraw. "We did see some troops moving outward," said Mr. Lapierre. "But he has made that promise before, and now we will be very careful in our monitoring, to make sure that, if he says he is withdrawing and there is some movement, before saying he has in fact withdrawn his troops and in a general sense meaning the whole troops."

Mr. Lapierre says reports that the troops had also seized the town of Walikale were false.

Rwanda has closed its border to the Democratic Republic of Congo because of the close proximity of these eastern towns. Rwanda has also strongly denied claims made by Congolese President Joseph Kabila that it is behind the unrest.