* Rebels vow to “liberate” the vast central African country
* M23 not available to comment on the proposals
* Rwanda denies backing the rebels
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Heads of state from Africa’s Great Lakes region on Saturday urged rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s turbulent east to stop expanding their war and leave the town of Goma which they captured this week.
The leaders met in the Ugandan capital Kampala to try to bring an end to the conflict after the M23 rebels said they planned to “liberate” the vast central African country. The M23 is widely thought to be backed by Rwanda, a claim it denies.
A statement signed by the leaders after their meeting urged the M23 to stop talk of overthrowing an elected government and to “stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma”.
Jean-Marie Runiga, the political chief of the M23 rebel group which took control of Congo’s eastern city of Goma this week was also in Kampala, but could not be immediately reached for comment on the proposals.
It was also not clear whether Runiga would meet Congo’s President Joseph Kabila.
The leaders said they would deploy a joint force at Goma airport comprising one company of a neutral international force of African troops, one company of the Congo army (FARDC) and one company of the M23, which currently controls the air field.
Kabila, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki attended the one-day summit. Rwandan President Paul Kagame did not attend, but was represented by Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
The leaders also resolved to have a United Nations force already in Goma to occupy and provide security in the neutral zone between Goma and the new areas taken by M23.
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 the city of one million people.
The statement said police that were disarmed in Goma by the M23 should also re re-armed so they can resume working.