Congo’s ally Zimbabwe withdraws troops from diamond-dealing city

Zimbabwe began pulling troops from the diamond-dealing center of Lubumbashi, Congo, Friday, Oct. 4, as part of a complete withdrawal of its forces from the war-ravaged Central African nation.

Two battalions totaling nearly 2,000 Zimbabwean soldiers have begun leaving the city in Congo’s southeast, said Maj. Alphonse Makotori, a spokesman for forces allied with the Congolese government.

Congo’s four-year conflict has led to nearly 2.5 million deaths, most from war-related hunger or disease, according to aid organizations.

Zimbabwe is expected to formally announce it has withdrawn all of its troops from resource-rich Congo during a ceremony Oct. 11 in Kinshasa, the country’s capital.

More than 15,000 foreign forces have pulled out of Congo in the past three weeks under new peace accords, the United Nations’ special envoy for Congo, Namanga Ngongi, said this week, AP reports.

Congo’s war began in August 1998, when Rwanda and Uganda sent in troops to back Congolese rebels seeking the overthrow of Laurent Kabila, the father of current Congo President Joseph Kabila.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to support the government. The resulting conflict split Congo, Africa’s third-largest country, into government- and rebel-held zones.

Zimbabwe’s defense was key to the government in the Congo capital and in Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi, whose diamond riches were sought by both sides to help defray costs of the war.

Now, following a series of recent peace deals among warring parties, rebel and government troops are standing down and foreign troops—both Congo-government allies and occupying forces—are returning home.

Before the withdrawals began, Rwanda had 23,400 troops in Congo, Zimbabwe 12,000 and Angola 8,000, by U.N. count, the AP reports.