GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Regional leaders meeting in Uganda on Saturday called on Congolese rebels to “stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma,” but the rebels did not seem interested in that.

Instead, they continued their advance on more government territory, sending troops in several directions to surround the small town of Minova, a steppingstone toward the next big prize, Bukavu, one of the largest cities in eastern Congo.

The Congolese Army, which has been routed in just about every battle in recent weeks, was massing troops around Minova on Saturday and beefing up its ranks by drawing on notorious militias that have been accused of raping and killing civilians.

Clashes could break out at any moment, the rebels said Saturday night, with rebel and government positions just a few miles apart.

“Why should we negotiate with the government?” said Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesman for the rebel group, called the M23. “They are talking peace but showing us the hand of war.”

The rebels, who are widely believed to be backed by Rwanda and have also been accused of war crimes, took Goma, a provincial capital, on Tuesday.

Since then, they have continued their push toward other strategic cities in eastern Congo.

Regional leaders are very concerned that Congo could be descending into another period of heavy warfare and widespread displacement similar to what it suffered in the mid- to late-1990s when rebel groups and foreign armies carved this vast country into fiefs.

On Saturday, Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, met with presidents from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

The presidents issued a communiqué at the end of the meeting, outlining several steps toward peace, including having the Congolese government listen to the “legitimate grievances” of the rebels and the establishment of a “composite force” made up of rebel fighters, government soldiers and a neutral army to control Goma’s airport.

by Jeffrey Genttleman

- New York Times