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The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"The aim of the this first phase of the peace agreement is modest"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 March, 2001, 01:35 GMT
UN confirms DR Congo withdrawal
UN observers are monitoring the withdrawal
UN observers are monitoring the withdrawal
The United Nations has confirmed that the agreement between the warring parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo to begin withdrawing their forces from frontline positions within the next two weeks is being put into effect.

The conflict has pitted Congolese troops - backed by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe - against rebels supported by Rwandan and Ugandan forces.

The UN chief of staff in DR Congo, Colonel Simon Caraffi, said Rwanda and Uganda have continued with their two-week old pullback, while Rwandan-backed rebels were now withdrawing in the east of the country.

The Congolese army said it had started pulling back its forces.

But Mr Caraffi told the BBC that the situation was less clear with the Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean forces, which have been fighting alongside the Congolese army.

He said: "The Zimbabwean forces seem to be at the moment holding firm, because it appears that they have yet to receive specific order to conduct withdrawal, and we are waiting for them to receive those orders."

First phase

The disengagement is the first phase of a ceasefire agreement, which is due to be followed by the deployment of UN peacekeepers.

UN plan
15 March - troops to pull back 15 km
15 May - complete withdrawal of foreign troops
UN to deploy 3,000 peacekeepers
Under deals reached in Kampala and Harare last year, and at the UN in New York last month, all forces in DR Congo are due to begin to fall back 15km (9.3 miles) from the front line.

It is hoped that the pulling back of enemy forces will open up enough space to make further clashes unlikely.

But our correspondent in the eastern Congolese town of Goma says recent talks there with local rebel leaders have highlighted fears over the Interehamwe, who carried out the 1994 genocide.

The RCD rebels say deployment of UN peacekeepers on the border between Congo and Rwanda may reassure Rwanda but could provoke the Interahamwe into terrorising the local Congolese population.

Withdrawals promised

Initial withdrawals from several areas by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, which back rebel groups in the two-and-a-half year war, have fuelled a sense of optimism over the peace process.

Ugandan soldier
Uganda supports a rebel group in the north-east of the country
But the UN Observer Mission in DR Congo has urged the government, rebel and foreign forces to "avoid any military action" that might jeopardise the operation, set to last two weeks.

The rebels and their backers control of much of the north and east of the country, and the front line between the two sides extends approximately 2,400 km (1,500 miles).

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | Africa
Troops withdraw from DR Congo
17 Jan 01 | Africa
Timeline: DR Congo conflict
16 Jan 01 | Africa
DR Congo's troubled history
26 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
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