- Congolese general and former police official have US assets blocked
- About 50 killed in clashes since President Joseph Kabila postponed vote
The United States has imposed sanctions on two senior officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo in an apparent warning to President Joseph Kabila to respect the constitution of the vast, unstable African country and call elections later this year.
The DRC has suffered repeated bouts of unrest since Kabila, 45, announced that the polls would be delayed.
Last week about 50 people died in clashes between security forces and protestersangered by what opposition groups charge is Kabila’s plan to retain power unlawfully through the indefinite postponement of a vote.
Supporters of Kabila, whose second term in office expires in December, say logistical and financial constraints mean it is impossible to hold fair polls as planned.
Opposition leaders last week told the Guardian they planned further street protests, despite the deaths.
The new sanctions target Maj Gen Gabriel Amisi Kumba and John Numbi, a former senior police official.
Any financial assets they have in the US are blocked and Americans are generally barred from engaging in financial transactions with them.
The decision to sanction the pair followed “increasing indications that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suppress political opposition in the country, often through violent means”, the US Treasury said in a statement.
Both men are members of Kabila’s inner circle, and are believed to be among those who have encouraged the president to take a hard line against local protesters.
Amisi oversees security forces in four provinces, including Kinshasa. Units under his command “reportedly have engaged in violent repression of political demonstrations”, including January 2015 protests in which at least 42 people died, the announcement said.
Amisi was promoted to his current post despite having been suspended from the army after a 2012 UN report accusing him of selling arms and ammunition to illegal armed groups known to commit atrocities and poachers. Amisi was never prosecuted by the Congolese military justice system for these alleged crimes.
A former rebel, Amisi is a colourful figure who is president of a top Congolese football team, as well as being one of the most influential people in Kabila’s government.
Numbi, the former national inspector of the country’s police force, used “violent intimidation” to secure victories for pro-Kabila gubernatorial candidates in March 2016 provincial elections, the US Treasury statement said.
The US imposed sanctions on Célestin Kanyama, police commissioner of the capital, Kinshasa, in June.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners.
Holly Dranginis, senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, said the sanctions would “put pressure on the regime where it really hurts – their finances”.
Ida Sawyer, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, also called on the US, the EU and the UN security council to impose sanctions on other senior DRC government, security and intelligence officials.
“Taking strong action now could put further pressure on … Kabila … and help prevent a broader crisis, with potentially volatile repercussions throughout the region,” she said.
Kabila took over as leader of the DRC less than two weeks after his father, Laurent, was shot by a bodyguard in the presidential palace in 2001. He was elected president in disputed polls in 2006 and again in 2011. The DRC’s constitution bars a third term.