Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday they would withdraw from Goma, a week after their capture of the key eastern city sparked fears of a new war in the volatile region.
Senior rebel commander Colonel Antoine Manzi told AFP the M23 fighters would withdraw from the city "in order to start negotiations with the government" but he did not say when the pullout would begin.
The announcement came hours after the expiry of a a deadline set by regional leaders at a meeting in Kampala, the capital of neighbouring Uganda, on Saturday.
They had given the rebels 48 hours to withdraw to at least 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Goma, while calling on the DR Congo government of President Joseph Kabila to take steps to resolve the rebels' "legitimate grievances".
An M23 rebel walks past a United Nations peacekeepers' base on the outskirts of the Congolese city of Goma on November 19.
The M23, which is largely made up of ethnic Tutsis, mutinied in April and seized Goma a week ago in a rapid advance across the mineral-rich east that the army proved unable to stop despite backing from UN peacekeepers who deployed attack helicopters.
In just a week, the rebels expanded their area of control from one small corner of North Kivu to cover almost the entire province, an area twice the size of Belgium and rich in diamonds and precious metals.
Besides Goma, the rebels also seized Sake, a strategic town on the way to neighbouring South Kivu province and its capital Bukavu.
The powder-keg region was the cradle of two wars that shook DR Congo between 1996 and 1997, and then again from 1998 to 2003, with Rwanda and Uganda playing active roles.
Since 1998 more than three million people are estimated to have died from combat, disease and hunger and 1.6 million have been left homeless.
The new fighting, as well as reported atrocities including killings, rapes and abductions of civilians, has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in a spiralling humanitarian crisis.
UN figures show some 1.6 million internally displaced people in North and South Kivu, including 285,000 newly displaced between July and September.
The UN last week issued a damning report accusing Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of backing the rebels and accusing the M23 of carrying out atrocities. Both countries deny the allegations.
As the military leader of the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo flies to Kampala Monday for talks, a general from the Congolese Army denies Minova has fallen under rebel control and says the situation is improving. Duration: 00:58
The mineral-rich region is home to a complex web of rebel groups and militias, and the DR Congo and Rwanda have long traded accusations of bankrolling or arming one or more of these groups.
On Tuesday, the Rwandan army claimed that ethnic Hutu extremists based in eastern DR Congo crossed into Rwanda and attacked its forces along the border.
An army spokesman said Rwandan soldiers repelled around 100 of the militiamen from the villages of Cyanzarwe and Bugeshi which he said they had attacked around dawn.
"As we are talking some are fleeing back to DRC, others deep inside Rwanda," Joseph Nzabamwita told AFP.
Brigadier-General Sultani Makenga -- who leads the M23 rebel force which is largely made up of ethnic Tutsis -- at his military residence in Goma on November 25. Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they will withdraw from Goma, a week after their capture of the key eastern city sparked fears of a new war in the volatile region.
Calling themselves the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), these fighters belong to a Hutu rebel group that fled Rwanda into DR Congo after minority Tutsi leader Paul Kagame's forces ended the 1994 genocide there.
They are held chiefly responsible for the bloodbath -- in which at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered -- and remain opposed to Kagame's regime.
The FDLR, believed to have between 3,000 and 4,400 members, is the most powerful force in the region, according to the United Nations.
Kagame's government accuses Kinshasa of backing the FDLR, while the DR Congo accuses Rwanda of backing the M23.
Congolese people carrying their children and belongings flee a rebel advance near Goma on November 23. The M23 rebel group say they will withdraw from Goma, a week after their capture of the key eastern city sparked fears of a new war in the volatile region.
The M23 was founded by former fighters in a rebel group whose members were integrated into the regular DR Congo army under a 1999 peace deal they claim was never fully implemented.
Another group, the Mai Mai militia allied to the DR Congo government, was meanwhile reportedly taking up positions outside Minova, a town on the way to Bukavu from Goma, to help block any possible advance by the M23.
DR Congo army troops equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers were in Minova itself.
The African Union said Monday it was considering the deployment of an international "neutral force" to set up a corridor between the M23 and the DR Congo army.