DR Congo President Joseph Kabila appointed a new army chief who is under international sanctions for violent repression of dissent, raising fears of a crackdown.
State television reported Kabila appointed General John Numbi as inspector general of the Congolese Armed Forces. Numbi is under sanctions by the United States, European Union and Switzerland for alleged killings of scores of civilians by forces controlled by him over several years.
His promotion was part of a reshuffle which saw General Gabriel Amisi, also under sanctions for abuses and selling weapons to rebel groups responsible for massacring civilians, promoted to army deputy chief of staff.
Another senior general, Celestin Mbala, was named army chief of staff, state TV reported.
The changes come as DR Congo eyes a December 23 election, across a country convulsed by violent militia groups and riven by a dispute over Kabila’s refusal to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.
The constitution in theory bars Kabila, in power since his father was assassinated in 2001, from running for a third term. But he declined to commit to stepping aside and security forces killed scores of protesters for taking to the streets to insist he does.
Some allies are now publicly arguing he has the right to run again. Marches organised by the Catholic Church were met with teargas and gunfire.
Kabila removed Numbi as police chief in 2010, following an outcry over his alleged involvement in the killing in police custody of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. He has since informally been in control of several divisions of security forces implicated in violence.
When the United States sanctioned him, they accused him of using “violent intimidation” to secure victories for pro-Kabila candidates in March 2016 provincial elections.
He remains an influential advisor and Kabila quietly restored him to an official post in the armed forces last year.
Amisi, known by his former radio call sign “Tango Four”, was suspended by Kabila as commander of Congo’s ground forces in November 2012 after UN experts accused him of supplying weapons to rebels and criminal gangs.
He was reappointed to the military less than two years later and units under his command crushed demonstrations, including January 2015 protests in which at least 42 people were killed, the United States said when sanctioning him.
Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba, weeks after his conviction for war crimes was quashed at The Hague, was nominated by his party for December’s presidential vote, in what could be the stiffest challenge to Kabila’s ruling coalition, although it is unclear if he will be able to run.
He finished runner-up to Kabila in a 2006 election that touched off street battles in Kinshasa between militiamen loyal to him and state forces.