* Rebels given 48 hours to quit Goma
* M23 movement has not accepted, rejected proposals
* Government troops seen on the back foot
* African Leaders scrambling to prevent conflict spreading
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Congo
said on Sunday it would not negotiate with M23 rebels in the
east until they pulled out of the city of Goma, but a rebel
spokesman said Kinshasa was in no position to set conditions on
Congolese President Joseph Kabila met with M23 for the first
time on Saturday after an urgent summit in Uganda where regional
leaders gave M23 two days to leave Goma, which the rebels seized
six days ago after U.N.-backed government troops melted away.
Eight months into a rebellion that U.N. experts say is
backed by neighbouring Rwanda, the rebels have so far shown no
sign of quitting the lakeside city of one million people.
The rebels say they plan to march on other cities in the
east, and then strike out across the country to the capital
Kinshasa, across 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of dense jungle with few
roads, a daunting feat achieved 15 years ago by Kabila's father.
Amani Kabasha, a spokesman for M23's political arm, welcomed
the meeting with Kabila but questioned the government's resolve
to end a crisis that risks engulfing the region.
"Why put conditions on talks? You pose conditions when you
are in a position of strength. Is the government really in such
a position?" Kabasha told Reuters in Goma, which sits on the
north shore of Lake Kivu at Congo's eastern border with Rwanda.
Vianney Kazarama, the rebels' military spokesman, said
government forces that had been reinforcing along the shores of
the lake were now deploying in hills around the rebel held town
of Sake and government-held Minova, both Goma's west.
A U.N. source in Minova said government soldiers had gone on
a looting spree for a second straight night there. The town was
calm on Sunday but gunshots rang out overnight, the source said.
"What is real is that the morale of the troops is very low.
They've lost hope in the commanders," the U.N. source said.
The Congolese army has vowed to launch counter-offensives
and win back lost territory. The rebels have warned the
government against embarking on a "new military adventure".
So far, the unruly and poorly-led army has been little match
for the rebels, despite assistance from a U.N. peacekeeping
mission that deployed attack helicopters to support the
government before Goma fell.
Rebel leaders share ethnic ties with the Tutsi leadership of
Rwanda, a small but militarily capable neighbour that intervened
often in eastern Congo in the 18 years since Hutu perpetrators
of Rwanda's genocide took shelter there. Rwanda has repeatedly
denied Congolese and U.N. accusations it is behind M23.
Saturday's Kampala summit called on the rebels to abandon
their aim of toppling the government and proposed that
government troops be redeployed inside Goma.
The rebels have not explicitly rejected or accepted the
proposals. They are, however, unlikely to cede control of the
city or accept government soldiers inside it.
Regional and international leaders are trying to halt the
latest bout of violence in eastern Congo, where millions have
died of hunger and disease in nearly two decades of fighting
fuelled by local and regional politics, ethnic rifts and
competition for reserves of gold, tin and coltan.
"Negotiations will start after the (M23) withdrawal from
Goma," Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
Kabila was still in the Ugandan capital on Sunday morning
but was expected to return to Kinshasa later in the day or on
Monday, two Congo government sources said. Kabila's
communications chief Andre Ngwej said he did not believe
official talks would start in the next few days.
While Kabila's army is on the back foot, analysts are
sceptical the rebels can make good on their threat to march on
Kinshasa without major support from foreign backers.
The regional leaders' plan proposed deploying a joint force
at Goma airport comprising of a company of neutral African
troops, a company of the Congolese army (FARDC) and a company of
In a statement, the Kinshasa government said Tanzania would
take command of the neutral force and that South Africa had
offered "substantial" logistical and financial contributions
towards it. The Kampala plan did not say what the consequences
would be if the rebels did not comply.