Congo rebels push on after repelling counter-attack

Fri Nov 23, 2012 3:59pm EST
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By Jonny Hogg and Richard Lough

SAKE/GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Rebels 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 neighboring 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."   Continued...

Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Sake, 25 km (15.5 miles) north of Goma city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 21, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the town from the government army. The United Nations defended its failed effort to prevent rebels from seizing the Congolese city of Goma, saying on Wednesday its helicopters had fired hundreds of rockets at rebels but were unable to beat them back when their forces sharply increased. Advancing M23 rebels seized the city on Tuesday after soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo's army fled. REUTERS/James Akena