* Rebels' political chief to meet Uganda president before
* 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
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
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.
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
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.
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
"Both will be hoping the other blinks first," he said.