KINDU, DR Congo - Some 500 Rwandan soldiers left the eastern DRC town of Kindu on Tuesday in the first stage of what has been heralded as a massive military pullout, Rwandan military sources said.
The troops left for Kigali aboard two Russian-built transport planes in the late afternoon.
Between 20,000 and 40,000 Rwandan soldiers were deployed in the DRC, where Rwanda first sent troops to back rebels in 1998 at the start of the war in the former Zaire that at its height embroiled more than half a dozen African countries.
Two battalions, or just under 2,000 men, are set to leave Kindu and nearby Kalima in the next three to five days, a military source here told AFP.
Rwanda invaded Congo along with Uganda in 1998, accusing the Government of sheltering the perpetrators of Rwandaâ€™s genocide. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia backed the Kinshasa government.
Rwandan army chief of staff General James Kabarebe and the commander of the UN mission in the DRC, General Mountaga Diallo, were on hand for the departure of the troops on Tuesday.
This initial withdrawal falls under the provisions of a deal struck with DRC President Joseph Kabila in Pretoria on July 30.
Kabarebe inspected the departing troops and gave them a few words of explanation in the Kinyarwanda language.
â€œOur withdrawal from (DR) Congo does not mean the hunt for the Interahamwe is over,â€ he said, referring to armed Rwandan Hutu extremists now allied to Kinshasa, who carried out much of the killing during Rwandaâ€™s 1994 genocide before fleeing into the DRC.
â€œHaving dealt with them outside our borders, Rwanda will now do this from within its borders,â€ he said.
â€œIf Joseph (Kabila) and the United Nations do not keep their promise and allow the negative forces to penetrate Rwanda, we will not remain passive,â€ he warned.
â€œAnything done in the promotion of the Lusaka Peace Accord is a necessity for peace in the Great Lakes region,â€ Lt Gen David Tinyefuza, senior presidential adviser on military affairs said.
Rwanda Starts Troop Pullout From DR Congo