NAIROBI, Kenya The rebel group that recently captured Goma, a strategic city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, pulled out hundreds of troops Saturday, but Goma was still waiting to exhale.
Residents packed the streets to watch the rebels chug out of town in big trucks, with rebel soldiers belting out victory songs as they left.
“We saw combat, and the enemy ran away,” the rebels cheered. Another verse: “We’re leaving, but we’ll be back soon.”
The rebels, called the M23, were under intense international pressure to leave Goma after inflicting a humiliating defeat on Congolese forces and setting off a national crisis with anti-government protests erupting across Congo. As much as Goma was a coveted prize – it is the capital of North Kivu province and one of Congo’s most vital trade hubs – many rebel leaders said that holding the city and trying to administer it would have been too much trouble.
On Saturday afternoon, United Nations officials in Goma confirmed the rebels were leaving. “It’s happening,” said Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping office in North Kivu province. “By the close of business, it should be done.”
Still, many of Goma’s residents were frightened about what lies ahead. Lawlessness has been increasing in the past week.
Goma residents, like people in many other parts of Congo, have been trapped for years between marauding rebel groups that rape, pillage and kill with complete impunity and a dysfunctional government army that often does the same.
Under a peace plan brokered by Congo’s neighbors, the M23 rebels are supposed to withdraw all their troops from Goma except for one company that will be allowed to stay at the airport along with government troops.
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