Congolese rebels to 'pull out'

Kigali, Rwanda - Congolese rebels will only withdraw from a strategic eastern Congolese port if the United Nations deploys troops in the town to ensure government forces do not retake the area, a rebel official said on Sunday.

Jean Pierre Lola Kisanga, spokesperson of the Rwanda-backed rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD, also said the rebels have halted military operations in Moliro, on the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, which the RCD captured on Saturday.

Kisanga said the RCD is "demanding" that the UN observer mission in Congo, dubbed Monuc, deploy troops to guarantee the security of civilians and prevent Congolese government forces from accessing the port.

"We are declaring a unilateral cease-fire in Moliro to facilitate efforts to convince Kinshasa [government] to come back to the negotiating table," Kisanga told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the RCD's headquarters in Goma, eastern Congo.

"We are willing to hand over Moliro to Monuc and its military observers, but both Kinshasa and the United Nations must give the guarantees we need."

Night of fierce fighting

On Thursday, the Congolese government pulled out of talks in Sun City on Congo's political future to protest the fighting.

RCD forces recaptured Moliro on Saturday after a night of fierce fighting that forced the evacuation of most of the Congolese government troops and their Burundian and Rwandan rebel allies.

Under the terms of a 1999 ceasefire agreement, known as the Lusaka accord, Rwanda withdrew from Moliro a year ago.

Congolese government troops, which were also supposed to pull back at least 15km from the front line, instead moved into the town. They have been using it as a base from which to supply government troops and their allies in the region by boat up Lake Tanganyika.

On Saturday, Congolese Defence Minister Irung Awan accused Rwandan forces of taking over the town. Awan said Rwanda had been reinforcing its military position in the area and shelling the town since March 9. - Sapa-AP

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