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— Rebels, who last week seized one of the most important cities in eastern Congo and advanced beyond, said Thursday that they had pulled back several miles to the town of Sake and were on track to leave the key city by Friday, in accordance with a deadline imposed by the international community.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said people had returned to Sake, abandoning a camp for displaced persons, but many found their homes had been looted or destroyed in the fighting.

“They have almost no food supplies and are unable to reach their fields,” said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Congo.

The apparent phased withdrawal of the M23 rebels indicates that international pressure may have succeeded in reversing the rebel advance and staved off what many had feared could be the start of a new war between the enormous, jungle-covered nation of Congo, and it’s much smaller and more affluent neighbor, Rwanda.

The M23 rebels are widely believed to be financially and militarily backed by the landlocked nation of Rwanda, which uses rebel groups to gain access to the mines that dot the landscape in eastern Congo.

Rebel spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama said Thursday that his soldiers had already pulled back from the region of Masisi to Sake, located 18 miles beyond Goma. “We are withdrawing,” he said. “Tomorrow we will [retreat to] Goma,” on track to leave the city as asked.

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