* Regional powers gave M23 rebels two days to leave Goma
* Congo says will not negotiate unless M23 pull out of city
* Congolese general rallies troops
GOMA/MINOVA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 26 (Reuters)
- R ebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo strengthened their
positions around the eastern city of Goma, defying regional
calls for them to leave by Monday even as their leader flew to
Uganda for talks.
Ugandan officials said they were hoping to persuade Colonel
Sultani Makenga to withdraw and prevent a descent into all-out
war in a region dogged by nearly two decades of conflict fuelled
by competition over vast minerals resources.
But as Makenga travelled, his M23 fighters fanned out into
hills surrounding Goma less then 20 km (12 miles) north of
government positions in Minova, on the shores of Lake Kivu, said
the rebels and a witness.
The rebels, who say they want to overthrow the government in
Kinshasa, captured Goma last week after Congolese soldiers
withdrew and U.N. peacekeepers were forced to give up defending
The rebel advance took place eight months into an insurgency
U.N. experts say is backed by neighbouring Rwanda - an
accusation Kigali and the rebels deny.
Regional leaders meeting at a summit on Saturday gave M23 a
48-hour deadline to leave Goma.
But on Monday, more than a dozen M23 fighters armed with
rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles guarded the
central bank building in the city, while on the outskirts,
others demanded a tax of $320 from trucks queued up to enter.
M23's military spokesman, Vianney Kazarama, confirmed rebel
fighters were taking up positions around the town of Sake, about
25 km west of Goma, and a withdrawal from the city itself was
"We're not refusing to leave it, if the security of the
population can be guaranteed," he said, standing outside Goma's
city's central bank building.
"But who is going to protect one million people? MONUSCO
(the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo)? The armed groups in
the town hiding? We are the protector of the people."
Rebel leader Colonel Sultani Makenga was in Uganda's capital
Kampala at the invitation of the head of the Ugandan military,
M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha told Reuters by telephone from Goma.
The Ugandan military said Uganda's chief of defence forces,
Aronda Nyakayirima, would reinforce the call by regional leaders
for M23's withdrawal from Goma.
GOVERNMENT FRONT LINE
Outside Minova, bleary-eyed pro-government militia fighters
clad in flip-flops and shorts and brandishing assault rifles
manned roadblocks on routes leading into the town from
"There are troop deployments in the hills (around Minova),"
one officer with the government army, known as the FARDC, told
Reuters. "A counter-offensive against the rebels is expected."
Inside Minova, the government's new chief of land forces
rallied his troops less than a week into his post.
"We don't need reinforcements. We have many men, what we
need is leadership," said General Francois Olenga Tete.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila suspended Olenga's predecessor
on Thursday after a U.N. report accused him of supplying weapons
to other eastern armed groups.
Entire villages have been emptied by the fighting which has
raised fears of a worsening refugee crisis and triggered
protests targeting the government and the United Nations by
people furious at them for failing to stop the rebels' advance.
A local doctor said at least 14 women had been raped in
Minova during a three-day rampage by government soldiers, who
scrambled back into the town after being routed by the rebels.
"The soldiers here came from the front. Of course they're
angry, almost the whole town was pillaged," Minova resident
Mbogos Simwerayi said.
U.N. experts say Rwanda, Congo's small but militarily
powerful eastern neighbour, is giving orders to the rebels and
supplying arms and recruits.
Rwanda has intervened in Congo repeatedly over the past 18
years under the pretext of hunting Rwandan Hutu militias
responsible for its 1994 genocide and protecting Congo's own
"The impunity that Rwandan President Paul Kagame has enjoyed
for his past interventions in Congo has empowered him to
continue to support the M23 rebel group," said Professor Timothy
Longman of Boston University.
The last 1998-2003 war in eastern Congo, which has big
reserves of gold, tin and coltan, an ore of rare metals used in
making mobile phones, drew in six countries.
In a sign local administrators were heeding the rebels' call
to return to work in Goma, customs officers at the city's border
with Rwanda worked on clearing a backlog of trucks while
policemen stood at crossroads directing the modest traffic flow.
The M23 group is named after a March 23, 2009 peace deal
that integrated Tutsi-dominated rebels into the army, but which
they say the government violated.
Congo has said it will not negotiate with the rebels until
they pull out of Goma, but the rebels have said the government
is in no position to set conditions on peace talks.
The African Union said on Monday Tanzania would send a
battalion as soon as possible to help secure Goma's airport.
MONUSCO had been asked to monitor an eventual M23 withdrawal
from the city, the AU said.