March 16, 2009 / 6:45 AM / 10 years ago

Ugandan troops begin Congo pull-out - military

* Uganda-led attack failed to catch rebel leader Kony

* At least 900 people killed in offensive

* Ugandan troops will not enter DRC to fight Kony

By Jack Kimball

ENTEBBE, Uganda, March 16 (Reuters) - Some 3,000 Ugandan soldiers have begun pulling out of northeast Congo after a three-month offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

A Uganda-led attack that began in mid-December has so far failed to net LRA leader Joseph Kony or two of his deputies, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The rebels have killed more than 900 people in reprisals.

“All of our soldiers are pulling out of the mission area ... our colleagues in Congo will continue,” Lieutenant-General Ivan Koreta, deputy chief of defence forces, told reporters.

“We’ll keep on sharing intelligence,” he said late on Sunday at an airport 40 km (25 miles) from the capital.

Koreta said he expected Uganda’s two brigades or some 3,000 troops to withdraw completely within eight days and that Ugandan soldiers would not enter the Democratic Republic of Congo to help Kinshasa’s soldiers battle Kony.

There had initially been some confusion over the timetable of Uganda’s pullout. Uganda said the mission had been extended indefinitely, but Congo denied that.

Critics say there is little to celebrate since the Ugandan offensive has failed to capture or kill Kony, who has waged a two-decade insurgency against the government.

Rebel fighters are known for slashing off lips and limbs in a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and destabilised a large area of central Africa.

Kampala says it sent troops into Congo only after Kony repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal worked out in neighbouring southern Sudan.

The operation is sensitive in Congo as Uganda invaded the nation in the 1990s and was accused of backing rebels and looting resources there.

But in a sign of improved relations, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Ugandan counterpart met this month on their border to discuss security and oil prospecting on Lake Albert, with estimated reserves of one billion barrels. (Editing by Wangui Kanina and Elizabeth Piper)

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