By NBF News

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

The apparent 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 is accused of using rebel groups to gain access to the mines that dot the landscape in eastern Congo.

Rebel spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama yesterday said that his soldiers had already pulled back from the region of Masisi to Sake, located 27 kilometers (18 miles) beyond Goma. 'We are withdrawing,' he said. 'Today we will (retreat to) Goma,' on track to leave the city as asked.

In the village of Mushaki, in Masisi territory, a handful of M23 soldiers were still seen patrolling the town as of 2:30 p.m. on yesterday, but their reduced number suggested that a drawdown had occurred. In Sake, reporters saw several dozen rebels. They were loading bags of food rations onto a vehicle, appearing to be getting ready to leave the town.

Despite the assurances by rebel leaders, in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday it is unclear if the rebels will fully withdraw from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province which serves as the main trading and shipping point for the gold and tin carved out of North Kivu's mineral-rich soil.

'We do see some movement of M23 troops, but we can't tell whether this is preparatory to a withdrawal or whether it's just sort of a redeployment,' she said. 'But we are continuing to press and to urge those with influence to press as well.'

The humanitarian situation in Goma and the neighboring towns taken by M23 was worsening, with tens of thousands of people uprooted due to the fighting. In Sake, the International Committee for the Red said people had returned, abandoning a camp for displaced persons, but many found their homes looted or destroyed.