Dispute over munitions threatens Congo M23 pullout

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A dispute over ammunition and equipment left by Congo government forces in the eastern city of Goma is threatening to hold up a planned withdrawal by M23 rebels who want to take the materiel with them, rebel and U.N. officials said on Friday.

 Photo: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters
M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma November 30, 2012. A rebel pullback from Goma, seized by M23 from fleeing United Nations-backed government forces on November 20, would signal some progress in international efforts to halt the eight-month-old insurgency in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

M23 rebels, who seized Goma on November 20 but have agreed to pull out under a deal brokered by regional governments, want to take with them a store of munitions and equipment abandoned by the government army FARDC. The military supplies were currently in the charge of U.N. peacekeepers at Goma airport.

But the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) was refusing to hand over the airport arsenal to the rebels.

"This is FARDC ammunition and does not belong to M23 so I don't think we have to hand it over," MONUSCO's spokesman in Kinshasa Madnodje Mounoubai told Reuters by phone.

M23 military chief Colonel Sultani Makenga accused the U.N. peacekeepers of "blocking" M23's withdrawal operations.

"We have a store that has our logistical equipment and now MONUSCO is telling us not to get our equipment. We can't agree to that," he told reporters in Sake, west of Goma.

(Reporting by Njuwa Maina, Ed Stoddard in Sake and Goma and Jonny Hogg in Nairobi; Writing by Pascal Fletcher)

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