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DR Congo imposes military rule in two violence-hit eastern regions

Soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo walk through a captured enemy base along the front line in the Wagu Forest, in the eastern DR Congo, on July 4, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has ordered the military to take over civil authorities in two eastern regions where dozens of armed groups operate and civilians have been subjected to horrifying abuses.

Presidential spokesman Tharsice Kasongo Mwema said on Tuesday that the two eastern provinces of North-Kivu and Ituri would be declared under siege for 30 days starting on Thursday.

"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," he said.

"The action of the civil jurisdictions will be substituted by those of military jurisdictions" until "the reestablishment of the peace," he added.

President Felix Tshisekedi in an address on Monday said he had heard "the cries of distress of our population, and felt the pain that our mothers, sisters, and daughters are suffering in these provinces ravaged by barbarity."

The announcement has been welcomed by North-Kivu Governor Carly Kasivita, who said he had repeatedly urged a "national mobilization" to deal with attacks in the province's Beni region.

Under the DRC's constitution, the president can declare a state of either siege or emergency "if severe circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of institutions."

However, some observers have warned that replacing civil authorities with military ones could lead to abuses of power.

Mineral-rich North and South-Kivu descended into violence during the country's two wars between 1996 and 2003. Ituri has also been rocked by violence since late 2017.

The Allied Democratic Forces, a group of Ugandan militants based in the eastern DRC since 1995, are blamed for many of the atrocities in the region. The ADF is now backed by the  Takfiri Daesh terrorists and has been accused of murdering more than 1,000 civilians in Beni alone since November 2019.

Monitoring groups estimate that 122 different armed groups of varying sizes are active in the troubled eastern DRC.

According to the UN, the DRC also has one of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world. More than five million people within the country's borders have been uprooted by insecurity, while nearly a million more have sought safety in neighboring countries as refugees.

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