Democratic Republic of Congo President, Félix Tshisekedi, has rebuffed criticism of past human rights abuses allegedly committed by his military appointees to the restive North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
The Head of State recently named Lieutenant-General Constant Ndima as head of North Kivu and Lieutenant-General Johnny Nkashama Luboya to Ituri province, a move that has been criticised by international lobby Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The duo are former rebel leaders, with General Ndima said to have a bloody track record during his time leading a guerrilla militia, the Congo liberation Movement (MLC), in operation “Erase the board” in 2002. General Luboya, on the other hand, is a former rebel chief with Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma), and is alleged to have overseen killings, rapes, and other abuses by his forces, according to HRW.
Following their recent appointments, HRW notes that "the profile of the new military governors of these two provinces can only increase concerns about human rights and the protection of civilians."
"The state of siege in eastern DRC should not be used as a pretext for committing abuses," the NGO said.
However, it seems the rights lobby's assertions have displeased President Tshisekedi. Returning from Kampala where he attended the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni, he landed in Lubumbashi, the second city of DRC in the province of Haut-Katanga. Here, he responded vehemently to criticism from HRW and sections of international media.
"Those who were screaming that there are 12 million dead or even 20 million dead in the East, now that we have taken action and we have appointed soldiers, wizards are again appearing to say that these officers have committed violence. Why did they not say that when they assumed their functions? It is only after their nomination that voices are raised to contest their nomination," he said.
"I did not listen to them. The appointed lieutenant-generals are Congolese. They will work for the interests of the Congolese. Do not let yourself be manipulated by those who want the blood of the Congolese to continue to flow. I have promised to restore security throughout the country", Mr Tshisekedi added.
DRC's presidency last week ordered military and police officers to take over civil authorities of North Kivu and Ituri provinces. This came after the volatile areas were declared to be under siege for 30 days starting on Thursday, May 6.
"To respond to the situation during the state of siege, the provincial governments of Ituri and North Kivu, and the entities of these provinces, will be replaced by offices of the armed forces of the DRC or the national police," the government said.
Additionally, military courts will replace civilian bodies in these provinces during this period.
According to the United Nations, the provinces have suffered clashes between armed groups over control of territory and natural resources, with civilians bearing the brunt over the last few years.