UN peacekeepers “stand ready to take any necessary measures, including the use of lethal force, in order to protect civilians,” the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said in statement issued on Monday.
“Any attempt by the M23 to advance toward Goma will be considered a direct threat to civilians,” the statement added.
MONUSCO also said that it was “deeply concerned” about M23’s new offensive, adding that the M23 rebels attacked Congolese army positions at the village of Mutaho, 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Goma, on Sunday.
The Congolese government said at least 130 people, including 10 soldiers, were killed in the fighting, which continued for five hours and resumed again on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the UN says its new 3,000-strong intervention brigade, which was created to neutralize and disarm the rebels, is approaching full strength, with 70 percent of troops deployed.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city, which is home to about one million people. The rebels withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
Several armed groups, including the M23 rebels, are active in the eastern Congo and are fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, more than three million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but some 500,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.