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Congo crisis: a deal with rebels, then maybe no deal

Congolese M23 rebels battling the government said Tuesday that they are withdrawing, reportedly unconditionally, from Goma. Then another M23 leader raised fresh demands.

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A column of Congolese M23 rebels is seen running on the Goma to Rushuru road as they look for FDLR (Force Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda) returning from an incursion into Rwanda Near Kibumba, north of Goma, Tuesday, Nov. 27. Rebels battling the government in the country's restive east said Tuesday that they are withdrawing, but then maybe not.

Jerome Delay/AP

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Confusion. Contradiction. Conjecture. Congo.

Congolese M23 rebels battling the government in the country's restive east said Tuesday that they are withdrawing, reportedly unconditionally, from the regional capital of Goma over the next few days after holding it basically unchallenged since last week.

Or at least some of them did.

While the rebel's military chief Sultani Makenga was heading back from the Ugandan capital Kampala after apparently finalizing a deal with regional army bosses to pull out this week, the movement's political head was in Goma laying down a stream of demands that Congo's government had to meet before any withdrawal would happen:

Dissolve the electoral commission, free political prisoners, start a dialogue with civil society and the diaspora, Jean-Marie Runiga, the president of M23's political wing, told Congo's President Joseph Kabila at a crowded press conference.

The contradiction was striking and the reason, some said, may boil down to the rebels' relationship with Rwanda. The M23 political wing is widely seen as a fig-leaf, an afterthought intended to offer local legitimacy to a rebellion that the UN says is directed, despite Kigali's denials, from neighboring Rwanda.

"While there is no question that Kigali is supporting M23, the interests of the two are not perfectly aligned, and some Congolese Tutsi leaders of the M23 may be under pressure from Kigali to withdraw while others do not care if they anger Kigali over refusing to do so," says Laura Seay, a regional expert at Morehouse College in the US. 

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