Hundreds of Congolese civilians lined up the dusty streets of Bunia to witness a marchpast by the UPDF signifying their withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Waving tree branches and victory signs, the Congolese cheered the UPDF soldiers as they marched around the town accompanied by armoured vehicles and tanks.
School children abandoned classes and dashed to the roadsides to watch the UPDF colourful exit from the troubled Ituri region.
Chaos reigned at some of the points in town as bystanders dashed for congolese currency notes thrown by the departing soldiers.
Some women broke down in tears as the soldiers sung farewell songs. The UPDF brass band -led the convoy from the airport through the town centre to the market and back to the airport.
UPDFâ€™s popular song, â€œmoto wawaka,â€ drew wild cheers from the excited Congolese.
By midday, two batches which arrived at Entebbe were scheduled to be received by defence minister Amama Mbabazi.
At Bunia Airport, two antonov planes carrying about 500 soldiers took off at 10:30am and 11:00am respectively amid shouts of joy from the Congolese. Another aircraft left at 12:00pm with 200 soldiers.
They later returned to pick more soldiers and their equipment. Unlike the past withdrawals, no women were allowed to board the aircraft.
Lt. Col. Alex Mirza, a Ukranian senior military observer for MONUC witnessed the pull out.
â€œWe are happy that the UPDF has gone by the deadline. We are going to maintain peace here and help in the pacification process,â€ he said.
Brig. Kale Kaihura, the overseer of the military operations in Ituri, told journalists at the airport that about 2,000 soldiers were yesterday expected to be airlifted from Bunia alone.
Some of the soldiers in Mungbwallo, about 85km northwest of Bunia and those from Aru near the Uganda border, began their long trek back home on foot on April 22.
There were about 6,000 soldiers in the DRC. Kaihura, who is also the UPDFâ€™s chief political commissar joined junior ranks at the airport grounds to sing victory songs ahead of the departure.
He said UPDF had presented to MONUC the withdrawal plan. Kinshasa Minister for Peace Vital Kamhere told The New Vision that Uganda had been given one month to withdraw in phases.
But even as the UPDF bid farewell to the Congolese, MONUC officials said they were not ready to take over the security of Bunia town which is already being eyed by the Lendu militia and defeated soldiers of Union of Patriotic Congolese led by Thomas Lubanga.
â€œWe wanted to hand-over the town but these guys are reluctant to take over the town,â€ said Kaihura. In his speech, Kaihura on behalf of president Yoweri Museveni hailed the UPDF soldiers for bringing peace to the Ituri region and neutralising all the dissident groups based in Congo and opposed to Uganda.
â€œYou have accomplished your mission. Ituri now has an interim administration. ,â€ he said.
Newly deployed Uruguayan troops, Kinshasa Police and other UN officials witnessed the send off.
Bunia cheers departing UPDF