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World DR Congo probes police chief over murder of rights activist

17:27  25 march  2021
17:27  25 march  2021 Source:   afp.com

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Prosecutors in the Democratic Republic of Congo have launched an investigation into a former police chief over the high-profile murder of a human rights activist, the justice ministry said Thursday.

a man wearing a uniform standing in front of a crowd: Former police chief John Numbi, centre, pictured in January 2011 at the trial of policemen accused of killing rights activist Floribert Chebeya © Junior KANNAH Former police chief John Numbi, centre, pictured in January 2011 at the trial of policemen accused of killing rights activist Floribert Chebeya

General John Numbi is suspected of orchestrating the killing of Floribert Chebeya, whose body was found in his car on the outskirts of Kinshasa in June 2010.

"Denunciations of General John Numbi... have been brought to the attention of the judicial authorities," the DRC's acting justice minister, Bernard Takahishe Ngumbi, told AFP.

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"At a minimum, a judicial process is launched" in such circumstances, he said. "This has been done. The public prosecutor is currently investigating."

Five policemen have been convicted for the murder, three of them in absentia.

But the European Union and rights groups called for a reopening of the case following evidence in February from two policemen who said they had taken part in the killing and that it had been ordered by Numbi.

Chebeya, head of a group called Voice for the Voiceless (VSV), had been called to the police station in Kinshasa the day before his murder.

His supporters say that he was called for a meeting with Numbi, the nation's police chief at the time. Numbi has denied this.

Chebeya's driver, Fidele Bazana, who took him to the appointment, subsequently went missing and is suspected to have also been killed.

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Numbi was suspended shortly after Chebeya's murder, but has never been tried in connection with it.

He appeared in 2011 as a witness in the trial of the accused policemen, but was not called again when the case went to appeal in 2015.

A key ally of former president Joseph Kabila, Numbi was placed under US and European sanctions in December 2016 for a police crackdown on protests in the region of Bas Congo in 2008 that according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed more than 200 lives.

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Floribert Chebeya, pictured during a visit in Brussels in April 2005 © ETIENNE ANSOTTE Floribert Chebeya, pictured during a visit in Brussels in April 2005

But in 2017 he was given an award by Kabila, a move that incensed campaign groups.

The following year, he was appointed armed forces inspector general, but Kabila's successor, Felix Tshisekedi, replaced him last July.

- Zimbabwe 'refuge' -

Numbi has fled to Zimbabwe, according to two sources.

Georges Kapiamba, head of a campaign group called the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), said on Twitter on Monday that Numbi "took refuge in Zimbabwe two weeks ago" and his bodyguard had been arrested.

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A source close to Numbi told AFP "Numbi is in Zimbabwe."

His farm near the southeastern city of Lubumbashi "was searched on Saturday by soldiers of the Presidential Guard," the same day when the bodyguard was arrested, the source said.

In a separate development, an official document seen by AFP on Thursday included Numbi, one of the DRC's three most senior generals, on a list of nearly 80 DRC army officers who have been told to "return to Kinshasa" from deployment in Lubumbashi.

The city is a stronghold of Kabila, who has been losing ground in a tussle for power with Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi earlier this year whittled away at support for Kabila among lawmakers in the National Assembly, enabling him to appoint his preferred prime minister after two years of having to share power with the Kabila camp.

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This is interesting!