The withdrawal was in accordance with an accord signed on 30 December 2002 in the northwestern town of Gbadolite between the MLC and two other rebel groups - its ally, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N), and its opposition, the RCD-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation.
The question of a complete withdrawal had been a matter of heated controversy for the prior 48 hours, as the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) had disputed the MLC's claim on Tuesday to have fully withdrawn from Mambasa. However, MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba clarified that his remaining forces were completing an inquiry into allegations by the UN and others that soldiers of the MLC and RCD-N had committed widespread human rights violations against civilians, including massacre and cannibalism of civilians, and of indigenous peoples - or pygmies - in particular.
Bemba said on Wednesday that the pygmies who were questioned by MLC investigators in Mambasa, in the presence of MONUC personnel "said they had heard nothing about pygmies being subjected to cannibalism in Mambasa".
"We have interviews that were videotaped in the presence of MONUC [personnel] and we can make them available to anyone who is interested," Bemba said.
Bemba said that 12 soldiers of the MLC who had been accused of human rights violations were currently under arrest at MLC headquarters in Gbadolite.
MONUC confirmed on 15 January that rebel groups in the northeast of the country had been engaging in acts of cannibalism. It said it had received witness reports of rebels belonging to the MLC and the RCD-N being involved in cannibalism and forcible cannibalism in Mambasa and Mangina, respectively 50 km and 70 km northwest of Beni.
On Monday, judicial authorities in the capital, Kinshasa, opened their own inquiry into the massacres and cannibalism allegations.
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