M23 rebels hand back control of Goma

M23 rebels hold their official handover ceremony of the capital, but locals sceptical of the withdrawal.

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – M23 rebels have held their official handover ceremony marking the end of the occupation the eastern DRC city of Goma.

“We are leaving Goma, the officials are leaving and the police are leaving,” General Sultan Makenga, head of M23 army, said on Saturday.

“The fight is over now,” he said.

“We are showing that we are respecting our commitment. I think Kinshasa will also respect this commitment,” he said.

Makenga said however that if Kinshasa did not honour their commitment, “we are not very far and we can come back”.

Makenga said around 100 soldiers will stay around the airport.

The M23 said that they have otherwise handed over the city to the UN. UN peacekeepers number around 1500 in and around the city.

Responding to allegations about confiscation of property, he said he was not aware of such and that soldiers were taking their tools back with them.

Hundreds of people witnessed the ceremony at Cercle Sportif, a sporting ground in Goma. Many residents were sceptical of a full withdrawal even as M23 soldiers assembled to mark their departure from the city.

“We are not sure if these people are pulling out. We see vehicles moving and out. We are totally confused,” said Rashid Didier. “Since the beginning of the week, they have promised to go. It seems like they are playing games. We want them to leave.”

Another man, Jean Sombem told Al Jazeera the situation was very strange.

“We only see the soldiers here, where are the others? Are these the only ones who were engaged battle here? I think some of them are hiding in the city,” he said.

“If they leave the city, we can breathe again. Shops are closed, schools are closed, we are struggling here.”

Elsewhere in the city, residents filtered to the streets. Though not as terse as Friday, many shops remained closed, and residents said that Goma felt like a shy Sunday rather than a tbustling, busy Saturday morning. Reports of overnight looting continued to surface on Saturday morning.

The ceremony marks the symbolic end of M23’s occupation of Goma, after taking the city on November 19.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and the ICRC says that 90 people have been killed since M23 took the city.

The M23 rebel group is made up soldiers of who left the Congolese army in April.

Over the past eight months they have occupied numerous villages in the eastern DRC.

Makenga said previously that his fighters would retreat along the southeastern axis is between Masisi and Goma, and will the go north towards Rutshuru, where they will settle 20km from Goma.

Though the ceremony marked the end of their presence in Goma, it was unclear where the trucks, carrying about 250 soldiers were headed.

Al Jazeera