Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – M23 rebels have held their official handover ceremony marking the end of the occupation of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“We are leaving Goma, the officials are leaving and the police are leaving,” General Sultan Makenga, head of M23 army, said on Saturday.
“The fight is over now,” he said, adding: “We are showing that we are respecting our commitment. I think Kinshasa will also respect this commitment.”
Makenga said, however, that if Kinshasa did not honour their commitment, “we are not very far and we can come back”.
Makenga said about 100 soldiers will stay around the airport.
The M23 said that they had otherwise handed over the city to the UN.UN peacekeepers number nearly 1500 in and around the city.
Hundreds of people witnessed the ceremony at Cercle Sportif, a sporting ground in Goma. Many residents were sceptical of a full withdrawal even as M23 soldiers assembled to mark their departure from the city.
“We are not sure if these people are pulling out. We see vehicles moving and out. We are totally confused,” said Rashid Didier. “Since the beginning of the week, they have promised to go. It seems like they are playing games. We want them to leave.”
Another man, Jean Sombem told Al Jazeera the situation was very strange.
“We only see the soldiers here, where are the others? Are these the only ones who were engaged in battle here? I think some of them are hiding in the city,” he said.
“If they leave the city, we can breathe again. Shops are closed, schools are closed, we are struggling here.”
Elsewhere in the city, residents filtered to the streets. Though the situation was not as tense as Friday, many shops remained closed, and residents said that Goma felt like a shy Sunday rather than a bustling, busy Saturday morning. Reports of overnight looting continued to surface on Saturday morning.
The ceremony marks the symbolic end of M23’s occupation of Goma, after it seized the city from government troops on November 19.
‘Hiding in the woods’
Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Michael Amoah, a political analyst specialising in African affairs, said that “the M23 are going to be hiding in the woods while they wait to see if the Kinshasa government is going to meet their demands, one way or the other”.
“At the moment the Kinshasa government, as well as some of the UN troops, have now moved to occupy Goma more principally. So, technically it may look like it is difficult for the M23 to come back into Goma, but at the same time we know that they are around and want to come back at any time that they wish,” Amoah said.
“The goal of the M23 is that they are drafted into the Congolese army properly, and are recognised and their salaries are at the same levels as the Congolese army.
“The other thing is that they want to be geographically placed in the Goma region.
“But that is not what the Kinshasa government wants to do. Kinshasa would like to be able to deploy them to any part of the country as members of the regular army. That is the main bone of contention.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting and the Congolese Red Cross says that 90 bodies have been collected and buried since M23 took Goma.
The M23 rebel group is made up soldiers who left the Congolese army in April.
Over the past eight months, they have occupied numerous villages in the eastern DRC.