* Army shores up defences as rebels push forward from Goma
* African leaders meet in Uganda for talks on ending crisis
* Congo bans protests, citing "undeclared state of war"
By Jonny Hogg and Richard Lough
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 24 (Reuters) -
C ongo's army reinforced its positions south of the city of Goma
on Saturday to halt a rebel advance, as African leaders met in
Uganda to try to end the deepening crisis in an area long
plagued by ethnic and political conflict.
Fighters from the M23 group, widely thought to be backed by
neighbouring Rwanda, were trying to push south along Lake Kivu
near the eastern rebel stronghold of Goma on the Rwandan border.
Regional and international leaders are scrambling to halt
the latest flare-up 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.
In the capital, Kinshasa, authorites banned protests, citing
the need to keep order in what Congo's national chief of police,
Charles Bisengimana, called "undeclared state of war".
Fractured government forces were reinforcing positions on
the shores of Lake Kivu, an army spokesman told Reuters, in a
bid to win back territory lost this week as the rebels pushed
out of Goma, a city of one million people.
"Our objective is to retake territory we've lost," said
Congo army (FARDC) spoksesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli.
Goma is a regional headquarters of a U.N. force, known as
MONUSCO, tasked with assisting government troops to protect
civilians, but peacekeepers largely looked on once the army fled
and the city fell. France has called MONUSCO's failure "absurd".
The rebels have threatened to march on Kinshasa and
"liberate" the rest of the central African nation, and failed
attempts at a counter offensive this week forced FARDC to pull
back to the lakeside town of Minova, leaving a trail of corpses
and abandoned equipment in their wake.
"We are going to defend Minova, but we'll also try to push
back the rebels," Hamuli said. Troop reinforcements were being
sent to the front lines, he said.
M23 forces moved south through the hills towards Minova, in
a strategic position on the road to Bukavu, the capital of South
Kivu province, and a rebel spokesman said they had come within
12 km (7-1/2 miles) of the town before halting their advance.
The rebels have said that Bukavu is their next objective and
have vowed to sweep across the vast nation Kinshasa if Congolese
President Joseph Kabila does not agree to talks.
M23 LEADER IN KAMPALA
The head of M23's political arm was also in the Ugandan
capital, Kampala, but it was not clear whether he would hold
direct talks with Kabila.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame is not attending the
negotiations and is represented by Foreign Minister Louise
Mushikiwabo. Rwanda has vigorously denied charges it is
supporting the rebellion.
As commanders on the ground tried to cobble together a force
capable of holding back the rebels, Kabila appointed a new
interim head of ground forces late on Friday.
General Francois Olenga Tete takes over from former army
boss General Gabriel Amisi, who was suspended on Thursday amid
charges he had sold arms to other eastern rebels.
Olenge rose through the ranks of a rebellion led by Kabila's
father and former president Laurent Kabila.
A 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks described
him as a political appointee with no military background, a
violent streak and "reputed to be corrupt".
"The question is not (that it will make a big difference to
the army), it was that the post was empty and it needed to be
filled," Information Minister Lambert Mende said late on Friday.