UPDATE 2-Congo rebels push on after repelling counter-attack

* Rebels' political chief to meet Uganda president before

summit

* Fighters push towards warlord's home

* U.N. says rebels killed, kidnapped civilians

* Kinshasa protesters allege rape of pregnant women

* Rwanda again denied involvement

SAKE/GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 23 (Reuters) -

R ebels advanced in eastern Congo on Friday, seeking to

strengthen their grip before a regional summit intended to damp

down the insurgency in an area long plagued by ethnic and

political conflict.

Fighters from the M23 group, who are widely thought to be

backed by neighbouring Rwanda, pushed south along Lake Kivu near

the new rebel stronghold of Goma on the Rwandan border.

In the capital Kinshasa, protesters accused the rebels of

abuses including the rape of pregnant women while the United

Nations reported killings of civilians and kidnappings.

The rebels advanced as their political chief Jean-Marie

Runiga was due to meet the president of Uganda on the eve of the

Kampala summit of leaders from Africa's Great Lakes region.

Regional and international leaders are scrambling to halt

the latest violence in the Great Lakes area, fuelled by a mix of

local and regional politics, ethnic rifts and competition for

big reserves of gold, tin and coltan, an ore of rare metals used

in electronics and other high-value products.

Another rebel contingent moved north from the road junction

at the town of Sake, scene of a failed counter-offensive by

government forces.

A Reuters correspondent in Sake said rebels were in control

after Thursday's battle, which had been the first sign of a

government fightback since the army abandoned Goma, a frontier

city of one million, on Tuesday.

" There was heavy fighting," said pastor Jean Kambale. "It's

M23 who control the town. They never lost it."

Fighters for the group - which said after taking Goma that

it would march on Kinshasa 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away to defeat

Kabila - met no resistance as they probed south from Sake.

Those rebels who pushed north from Sake moved closer to the

home town of Bosco Ntaganda, a Rwandan-born warlord who many say

controls the insurgency and is wanted for war crimes by the

international court at The Hague.,

Thousands of refugees were fleeing the fighting and heading

for Goma, where aid agencies have a significant presence, along

with U.N. peacekeepers who stood back when the rebels moved in.

U.N. aid agencies painted a bleak picture of the aftermath

of the fighting, which they estimate has displaced 140,000

people in and around the lakeside city of Goma.

A rebel spokesman said M23 had "demilitarised" Goma, moving

soldiers out and securing it with a makeshift police force.

"Our soldiers are outside the city. We demilitarised two

days ago," said M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama.

A Reuters correspondent saw hundreds of people in Goma's

stadium on Thursday registering to become police.

KINSHASA PROTEST

In the distant capital, hundreds of women marched on Friday

on the headquarters of the U.N. mission to protest against the

rebellion. "I am saddened by everything that is happening over

there. Pregnant women are raped and mistreated. I am marching in

solidarity with them," said one of the women, herself pregnant,

who asked not to be named.

The women, clad in black, carried banners calling for peace

and criticising Congo's tiny but militarily powerful neighbour.

"No to Rwanda!" read one.

Rape during conflict is well documented in Congo, with

rights groups saying it is used as a weapon of war.

In a statement on Friday, U.N. Human Rights chief Navi

Pillay's spokesman said they had reports of rebels killing at

least nine civilians, wounding dozens more and carrying out a

series of kidnappings. Government troops had also committed

abuses, including looting, the spokesman said.

The crisis has raised tensions between Congo and Rwanda,

which Kinshasa, backed by U.N. experts, accuses of secretly

supporting the rebels.

Kigali has a history of meddling in Congo's conflicts but

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has repeatedly denied involvement,

accusing Congo and world powers of seeking a scapegoat for their

failures. "It doesn't matter how many times you repeat lies

about us, it doesn't make it the truth ... we will not accept

it," the Rwandan presidency said on its official Twitter

account.

In Goma, capital of North Kivu province, M23 fighters showed

journalists on Friday an arms cache they said the army abandoned

when it fled the town. Weapons on display included multiple

rocket launchers, artillery canons, hundreds of mortars, anti

personnel mines, and stacks of ammunition.

"Kabila is gone, With this, Kabila leaves. We'll take this

to the front. If he doesn't negotiate, we continue," said

Colonel Seraphin Mirindi, a senior rebel officer.

Previous uprisings in Democratic Republic of Congo, among

them one led by Kabila's father, have been launched from the

area, where a mix of colonial-era borders, mineral deposits and

ethnic rivalries has caused millions of deaths during nearly two

decades of turmoil dating from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Red Cross officials had so far retrieved bodies of 31 people

killed in fighting for Goma, UNICEF said.

REFUGEES

The rebels have had a mixed welcome in areas taken this

week, with some welcoming promises of change but many also tired

of years of conflict and expecting abuse by gunmen on all sides.

Fearing more fighting, thousands of people, clutching

children and belongings, were on the move around the lake on

Friday, trudging along the road towards Goma from Sake.

M23 was formed in April by army mutineers who accused Kabila

of reneging on a peace deal from an earlier conflict. It now

says it plans to "liberate" the whole country and has rejected a

call from regional states to withdraw from Goma.

While Kabila's armed forces are on the back foot, analysts

remain sceptical the rebels can make good on their threat to

march on Kinshasa in the west without significant, overt support

from foreign backers.

The rebels have so far ignored international calls to

withdraw from occupied areas and say they are doubtful of

Kabila's stated readiness to look into their complaints, since

they complain of having already waited months for talks.

Ben Shepherd, an associate fellow at UK-based Chatham House

think tank, wrote in a paper that Congo and Rwanda were playing

a high-stakes game, with Rwanda risking further international

condemnation for reportedly backing the rebels and Kabila

potentially facing a backlash over his handling of the

rebellion.

"Both will be hoping the other blinks first," he said.

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