Regional African force and rebels announce start of M23 withdrawal from areas near Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu, near border with Rwanda and Uganda.
The M23 rebel group has started to withdraw from occupied areas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the East African Community Regional Force announced.
"The M23 withdrawal and subsequent takeover of East African Community Regional Force in areas under their control is a positive indicator that the agreed upon strategy of restoration of normalcy in eastern DRC are on course, challenges therein not withstanding," the bloc's force said in a statement on Friday.
The regional force reiterated "the need for an elaborate mechanism for an orderly withdrawal of the rebels from all areas under their control, an immediate cessation of hostilities by all armed groups, but most importantly, respect for the Sovereignty and territorial Integrity of the DRC."
Last month, the M23 rebellion had taken control of several territories northeast of the provincial capital of Goma, following intense fighting with DRC forces, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.
Earlier on Friday, the rebels announced the beginning of the withdrawal from Kibumba, located 20 kilometres from Goma.
"We hope that the government of Kinshasa will seize this opportunity with two hands and will also work to bring peace to our country," M23 said in a statement.
African leaders at a mini-summit in Angola in November reached an agreement for a ceasefire and demanded "the immediate withdrawal of M23 rebels from the occupied areas.
DRC has accused Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies as "scapegoating."
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Genocide at heart of M23 rebellion?
Meanwhile, UN experts said they have found "substantial evidence" of Rwandan government forces crossing into neighbouring eastern DRC, either to reinforce M23 rebels or to conduct military operations against another rebel group that includes fighters accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
According to excerpts from the latest report from the panel of experts obtained on Friday by The Associated Press, weapons, ammunition and uniforms were also provided to the M23 rebels.
The group resurfaced more than a year ago and has been accused of killing civilians and seizing land in eastern DRC's Rutshuru territory.
The panel said it also found "substantial evidence" of support given to several DRC armed groups by members of DTC's military, known as the FARDC, in Rutshuru. It said there is "cooperation between FARDC units and DRC armed groups in Rutshuru territory."
At the root of the current crisis between Rwanda and DRC is the 1994 genocide.
The carnage began when a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down, killing the leader, who like most Rwandans was an ethnic Hutu.
The country's minority Tutsis were blamed, and although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with support from Rwanda's army, police and militias.
The genocide killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them. Thousands of Hutus fled to neighbouring eastern DRC.
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Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and former opposition military commander, is widely credited with stopping the genocide, but he has become a polarising figure in recent years, accused of leading an authoritarian government that crushes all dissent.
The M23 rebels are largely ethnic Tutsis from DRC who became prominent 10 years ago when their fighters seized Goma, eastern DRC's largest city on the border with Rwanda.
The group derives its name from a March 23, 2009, peace deal, which it accuses the DRC government of not implementing.
The FDLR movement, also mentioned by the panel of experts, is a Hutu rebel group opposed to Tutsi influence that reportedly includes Hutus who participated in the genocide of mainly Tutsis in Rwanda.
READ MORE: US urges Rwanda to rein in M23 rebels in eastern DRC