Mutineers effortlessly seized control of the eastern Congolese capital of Goma, laying claim to the region's political and commercial capital, and embarrassing Congolese armed forces and U.N. peacekeepers that did little to stall their advance.
In New York, France and the United States this evening reached agreement on a draft resolution that condemns the M23 mutineers' capture of Goma, and demands their immediate withdrawal from the city. The resolution -- which is expected to be voted on tonight -- will impose additional sanctions on M23's commanders and ask U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to report on "external support" for the rebel group.
The French-American pact followed days of difficult negotiations over the appropriate response to the crisis, and whether to blame the mutineers alleged backers -- Rwanda and Uganda. France, a longtime ally of Congo, favored directly naming the regional powers. But the United States, which has close ties to Rwanda, opposes such action.
An independent U.N. panel has accused Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of organizing, arming, training, and financing the mutiny in eastern Congo.
In recent days, the mutineers -- who allegedly take their orders from Rwandan Defense Minister James Kaberebe -- have received supplies of advance military equipment, including night vision goggles and mortars.
The panel, which was established by the U.N. Security Council to monitor compliance with the country's arms embargo, has accused the M23 of committed widespread human rights abuses, including murder, rape, and the forced recruitment of children.
Rwanda and Uganda have denied playing any role in backing the mutineers.
France, which has the lead on Security Council action in the Congo, has privately expressed an interest in sanctioning Rwanda, or at least citing their alleged role in aiding the insurgency. But they have faced resistance from the United States, according to Security Council diplomats.
The French mission said today in a tweet that the "proposed text requests" that Ban "report on external support to M23 in the coming days [and] expresses readiness to take action." The United States, however, raised concern about that provision, according to council diplomats.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to discuss the content of its closed-door discussions. But a U.S. official said: "Our concern about the situation in Eastern Congo and the M23's appalling military campaign is clear, and our objective is to end the rebellion. Any action by the Security Council should be measured against whether it supports the ongoing diplomatic efforts toward that goal."
The debate in the council unfolded as M23 marched largely unopposed into the eastern Congolese city of Goma.
The U.N. deputy spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, cited reports that the M23 mutineers have "wounded civilians, continued abductions of women and children, looted property and intimidated journalists and those who have attempted to resist their controls."
Del Buey said that as of midday the U.N. still had control over the city's airport and that 17 U.N. rapid reaction forces were carrying out patrols in Goma and would "continue all efforts within their capacity to protect civilians from imminent threat."
France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, sharply criticized the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUSCO, saying it was "absurd" that a force that numbers 17,000 peacekeepers, (although far fewer are deployed in the area of fighting), was unable to repel the advance of several hundred insurgents into Goma. "MONUSCO is 17,000 soldiers, but sadly it was not in a position to prevent what happened," Fabius said.
Britain, meanwhile, urged its nationals not to travel to the conflict zone.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, said that his government's minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, was headed to the region to assess developments.
"The M23 must withdraw their forces immediately and allow legitimate government control to be restored," Hague said. "I urge once more those with influence over the M23 to encourage them to stop fighting and to withdraw immediately."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.