Congolese ally Zimbabwe started withdrawing its troops Friday from the key diamond-center of Mbuji-Mayi, one of the hardest-defended targets during the central African nation’s ruinous four-year war, the Associated Press reported Friday, Sept. 13.
Zimbabwe’s withdrawal comes after separate peace accords Congo made with Rwanda and Uganda.
In the wake of the still-tentative peace deals, Congo’s allies “have decided to give the space and the time to the Congolese people to choose for themselves a durable solution to their problems,” Zimbabwe Maj. Gen. Philip Sibanda reportedly declared as his troops paraded before leaving the city.
At the peak of its involvement in the multination conflict—estimated to have killed as many as 2.5 million people, most through famine and disease—Zimbabwe had nearly 14,000 troops fighting in mineral-rich Congo against Rwandan and Ugandan forces and their Congolese rebel allies.
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, whose diamond riches were wanted by both sides to help defray the costs of the war.
Zimbabwe tanks long ringed the muddy town, with its open-air diamond markets.
Last week, Kabila and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni ratified a peace deal in Luanda, Angola, which includes the withdrawal of Ugandan forces backing Congolese rebels, the AP reports.
In a July 30 pact, Congo pledged to disarm and send home Rwandan rebels based on its soil, in return for Rwanda’s pledge to pull its troops out of Congo. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe cited that accord last month in announcing the coming — indefinite — withdrawal of his country’s forces, the AP reports.
Zimbabwe, which had already withdrawn some soldiers from Congo, still has one of the larger deployments of foreign troops there. Zimbabwean officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that nearly 3,000 Zimbabwean troops would remain in Congo for the time being, the AP reports. Namibia had already withdrawn its several hundred troops and Angola has a “token” force in the country, the U.N. mission in Congo said recently.