BUKAVU, Congo — Rwanda began pulling 6,000 troops from a border province in Congo on Tuesday, in the latest stage of a withdrawal from the war-ravaged country that it hopes to complete by week's end, a top commander said.
U.N. military observers in white jeeps patrolled the streets of this eastern town in South Kivu province to verify the withdrawal, while Rwandan helicopter gunships hovered to provide security.
Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. James Kabarebe said Rwanda intends to finish its withdrawal by the end of the week. Rwanda has never said how many soldiers it has in Congo; estimates have put the number around 23,400.
The withdrawal was approved under a July 30 peace deal signed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila in South Africa.
The four-year war in Congo broke out in August 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda sent thousands of troops and military hardware to back Congolese rebels seeking to oust Kabila's late father, then-President Laurent Kabila.
"During the four years we spent in Congo, we did a lot of work. We weakened our enemy who is no longer a big threat to us," Kabarebe told the troops. "We are pulling out of Congo, and we will defend our borders."