Stock picture.

UN helicopter gunships in the Democratic Republic of Congo fired on positions held by mutinous soldiers in order to protect the main eastern city of Goma, the United Nations said Friday.

“M23 fighters had been seen moving south towards Goma, and MONUSCO (the UN mission) had also received a report of human rights violations by the M23 in that area,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The UN helicopters on Thursday “used rocket fire and missiles to deter their further advances and to protect the population,” Nesirky added.

At a meeting Friday with leaders of the DR Congo military (FARDC), MONUSCO chief Roger Meece “reaffirmed the determination of MONUSCO to protect civilians and support the FADRC's efforts to secure main population centers,” Nesirky said.

On Thursday three UN helicopters and two from the Congolese army fired heavy ammunition and rockets at rebel positions in Nkokwe and Bukima, two towns in the southeast of Virunga national park, 50

kilometres (30 miles) north of Goma.

The helicopter attacks followed a series of key gains by the rebel soldiers, but the M23 movement says it has no intention of threatening Goma.

The M23 is led by Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed the “Terminator”, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting child soldiers a decade ago.

The mutineers are Tutsi ex-rebels who were integrated into the regular army in 2009 as part of a peace deal that followed their failed 2008 offensive on Goma, under the command of Tutsi leader Laurent Nkunda.

But they mutinied in April, demanding better pay and the full implementation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal for which they are named. -Sapa-AFP