- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GOMA, Congo (AP) — The M23 rebels pressed ahead with their seizure of territory and towns in eastern Congo on Wednesday and said they intend to topple the government of President Joseph Kabila.

The rebels took control of the eastern Congo town of Sake in a bid to move toward the provincial capital of Bukavu.

Kabila has to go. We want our country back,” said M23 Col. Vianney Kazarama to cheers from thousands gathered at the stadium in Goma, which was seized by the rebels on Tuesday. “We are now going to Kinshasa. No one will divide this country.”

Nearly 3,000 Congolese army soldiers and police defected to the rebels in Goma on Wednesday and turned in their weapons at the stadium rally.

Even as the rebels consolidated their gains, the presidents of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda called on them to give up the territory they now control.

The M23 is made up of hundreds of officers who deserted the Congo army in April this year. Neighboring Rwanda has supplied trained soldiers and weapons, according to a report by United Nations experts to be published Friday.

The speed with which the M23 has seized Goma and the surrounding countryside, rich in minerals, exposes the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, 1,500 kilometers (978 miles) to the west in Kinshasa, say experts.

“It’s a setback for Kabila. He wasn’t even capable of reforming the army and the fall of Goma demonstrated that,” said Felix Bafilemba. “It marks the beginning of the end for Kabila’s regime.”

Strewn with bodies, burned out vehicles and abandoned tanks, the road between Goma and Sake showed evidence of Tuesday’s fighting.

M23 soldiers in vehicles patrolled the streets of Sake, 27 kilometers (17 miles) south of Goma. As in Goma, most residents accepted the rebels’ presence.

“We only want peace,” said Innocent Rumabo in Sake.

Other resident complained of rapes carried out Tuesday night.

“I know two women who were raped, there are more in the area,” said one Goma resident who insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation.

In neighboring Uganda, the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo resolved to put pressure on the M23 rebels to give up territory they have captured, according to a statement released at the end of the emergency talks.

“Even if there are legitimate grievances by the mutineering group known as M23, they cannot accept the expansion of this war or entertain the idea of overthrowing the legitimate government of (Congo) or undermining its authority,” said presidents Joseph Kabila of Congo, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, in a statement issued late Wednesday.

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