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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Rwandans leaving eastern DR Congo
Rwandan soldiers dismantle a four-barrel anti-aircraft gun in the eastern Congolese town of Kongolo
More than 2,000 Rwandan soldiers have already left (AP)

The retreat of Rwandan troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo has entered its most crucial phase, with soldiers pulling out of the Kivu border region.


The Rwandan-backed rebels, countless groups of Congolese militias and Rwandan fighters have turned the countryside into a nightmarish no-man's-land

During the past four years, Rwanda has sent thousands of soldiers into Congo to fight the Kinshasa government and Rwandan fighters responsible for the 1994 genocide.

But the two governments signed a peace accord in July.

UN observers say more than 2,000 have already left Congo, with another 20,000 to go.

Leaving

At the football field in Sake, a small market town surrounded by mountains, a battalion of Rwandan soldiers is loading its packs and weapons onto trucks.

Children from the primary school are singing and onlookers dressed in dirty old clothes have gathered to see if the Rwandans are really going home.

UN observers report that trucks have already crossed back into Rwanda, carrying soldiers garrisoned elsewhere in this border region of volcanoes, forests and banana groves.

Residents told me they were happy the soldiers were leaving.

Their departure is seen as a sign that Congo's appalling war, which has devastated the Kivu region more than elsewhere, is coming to an end.

The people here are exhausted and traumatised.

Though Rwanda says it is now leaving, the hills are still full of gunmen and food in this agriculturally rich region, is still scarce.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Dummett
"Congo's peace process appears finally to be making some progress"

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24 Sep 02 | Africa
23 Sep 02 | Africa
21 Sep 02 | Africa
09 Sep 02 | Africa
20 Sep 02 | Africa
19 Sep 02 | Africa
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