Congo M23 rebel fighters ride trucks out of Goma

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo Sat Dec 1, 2012 3:23am EST

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo Dec 1 (Reuters) - Trucks carrying rebel fighters singing and brandishing their weapons pulled out of Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern city of Goma on Saturday under a withdrawal deal brokered by regional states.

Leaders of the Tutsi-led M23 rebel movement had agreed to quit Goma by Saturday. They had seized the city on Lake Kivu on the border with Rwanda on Nov. 20, after they routed government troops backed by United Nations peacekeepers.

"The M23 is leaving Goma," the group's deputy spokesman Amani Kabasha told Reuters.

In the city centre, blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay in white armoured vehicles watched as camouflage-clad M23 fighters scrambled onto the back of flatbed trucks with battered suitcases and other belongings before driving off.

Several of the departing trucks were loaded with crates of ammunition including mortar shells.

A crowd of around 200 local residents gathered under a hot tropical sun to watch the rebels go.

A full rebel withdrawal from lakeside Goma, which lies in sight of the towering Mount Nyiragongo volcano, would signal some progress in international efforts to halt the eight-month-old insurgency in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Friday, the agreed withdrawal appeared to run into problems, including a dispute over abandoned army supplies the insurgents wanted to take with them.

Goma is an important hub in Congo's eastern borderlands which have suffered years of recurring conflict stoked by long-standing ethnic and political enmities and fighting over the region's rich resources of gold, tin, tungsten and coltan. The latter is a precious metal used to make mobile phones.

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