MINOVA, Congo — A Congolese town in the path of advancing rebels is currently occupied by government troops, but that's little consolation to residents whose homes have been looted by the government forces.
Unruly Congo army soldiers looted for the third night running, a United Nations official in the town of Minova said Sunday, insisting upon anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. U.N. peacekeepers patrolled Minova to protect civilians from the rampaging government troops.
M23 rebels took the main city of Goma in eastern Congo last week and Minova lies on the path to their next target, a provincial capital to the south.
Pickup trucks packed with Congolese army soldiers armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades sped through Minova. Other army soldiers walked the streets, looking for food. Some were even selling cigarettes on the side of the road, testimony to the poor pay that government troops receive.
In Minova, Congo Gen. Francois Olenga, who was recently named head of the Congolese army, held meetings with area commanders.
"The country is in danger. We cannot defend our country with traitors," Olenga told The Associated Press.
M23 soldiers remained in control of Goma. M23 also still held Sake, a town 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Goma, after repelling a Congolese army attack on Saturday.
As of Sunday, the front line was near a village a few kilometers (miles) south of Sake. No rebels were seen by the AP north of the village, and to the south were large numbers of government troops and Mai Mai militias.
Meanwhile, talks at ending the conflict appeared to go nowhere.
Congolese officials held the talks Sunday in neighboring Uganda with representatives of M23, according to Ugandan officials. Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said he was mediating to help both sides reach a settlement. But Uganda can hardly claim to be totally neutral: Both Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels, according to a U.N. report released on Friday.
Rene Abandi, M23's head of external relations, said M23 representatives met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila in a tense, two-hour meeting attended by Museveni. But the Congo government denied that it has had any negotiations with the M23 rebels. Some Congolese officials in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa have said there will be no talks with the rebels unless they leave Goma.
A regional summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in Kampala – attended by both Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – on Saturday called on the rebels to leave Goma and urged Kabila to listen to the "legitimate grievances" of M23.
M23 is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April. Since then the rebels have occupied vast swaths of territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo. The rebels accuse Congo's government of failing to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal that incorporated them into the national army.
AP writer Melanie Gouby contributed to this report from Goma.