The United Nations says its peacekeepers have intervened this week to stop rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from advancing on local towns.

In a statement issued Thursday, the U.N. mission in the DRC says its forces stopped fighters of renegade General Laurent Nkunda from moving toward three different localities on Tuesday.  It identified the towns as Kirotche and Kanyabayonga in North Kivu province and Minova in South Kivu province.

New clashes between Nkunda's men and the DRC army erupted late last month, violating a truce signed in January.  This week, the DRC government urged the U.N. mission to take stronger action to impose peace in the region. 

The peacekeepers say their main priority is to protect civilians, and they have urged the sides to cease hostilities.

Eastern Congo remains the most volatile area of a country still recovering from a civil war between 1998 and 2002. The war killed an estimated four million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

General Nkunda formed his militia in 2004, saying he needed to defend Tutsi civilians against Hutu rebels originally from neighboring Rwanda.

The U.N. mission in the DRC totals more than 17,000 soldiers, military observers and police.  It is the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world.