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Rwandan army to start Congo withdrawal

GOMA, Congo (Reuters) - Rwandan troops will start withdrawing from eastern Congo on Saturday and the entire force will have left by the middle of next week, a Rwandan military spokesman said on Friday.

Rwandan soldiers march through the village of Pinga, eastern Congo, February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Rwandan soldiers have “achieved their objectives” in a joint operation with Congo’s army to hunt Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, even though the rebels have not been completely destroyed, Major Jill Rutaremara told Reuters.

Congo invited the Rwandan army to help it attack the rebels last month, in a sign of improved relations between the two countries after a 15-year period in which they fought two wars.

The rebels, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), have been central to these conflicts, which still simmer despite the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping mission and 2006 elections in Congo.

“Tomorrow they are going to issue (the orders). They will begin pulling back slowly,” Rutaremara said on Friday.

“There will be a parade and then the troops will go back to Rwanda. All Rwandan troops will pull out,” he added, saying the withdrawal would be completed by Wednesday.

Some FDLR rebels took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and then fled to Congo, sparking years of violence as Rwanda’s powerful Tutsi-led army then invaded its mineral-rich neighbor.

Rwanda said it invaded Congo during the 1990s to hunt the Hutu force but it did not defeat them and, in the process, Rwanda was accused of plundering Congo’s resources and backing other Congolese rebels.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has also invited Uganda’s army to hunt Ugandan rebels in northeast Congo.

Kabila said last month that the Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers had until the end of this month to complete their operations in Congo. Uganda is seeking an extension to its operation.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; writing by David Lewis; editing by Tim Pearce