US names new envoy to end Great Lakes 'suffering'

The United States on Tuesday appointed a new envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region in a renewed bid to end an outbreak of killings and rapes by armed groups terrorizing it.

Former Democratic senator Russ Feingold was appointed by US Secretary of State John Kerry to bring a "very important focus on a long-troubled region."

"The suffering in the Great Lakes region of Africa and the ongoing crisis in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to trouble all of us greatly," Kerry told reporters.

"We are convinced that we have to help the parties find a path to a lasting peace, to a permanent cessation of hostilities and to the disarmament and demobilization of M23," he added.

"This is a high-level priority, and it needs to be met with high-level leadership," Kerry added, in a move lauded by non-governmental groups.

The M23 rebellion -- launched by Tutsi former soldiers who mutinied in April 2012 -- is the latest in years of violence that have ravaged the vast central African country's mineral-rich east.

Rwanda plays a key role in the region and has been accused by the UN of backing the M23 fighters, a claim it denies.

Feingold, who worked alongside Kerry for many years in the Senate, will be the new special representative for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kerry hailed him as the "Senate's leading advocate and expert on Africa" who would help "shape our strategy on the many challenges in the region."

The news came after Mary Robinson was appointed the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, which Feingold said had "brought a renewed focus to the causes of instability in the region."

It had "created an historic opportunity for this important, but challenged region of Africa," Feingold added in a statement.

Feingold's appointment was "critical to guarantee the continued delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by conflict and chronic crisis," said Sharon Waxman, vice president of public policy at the International Rescue Committee.

It would also help the "pursuit of long-term sustainable solutions for the Congolese people."

Enough Project senior policy analyst Sasha Lezhnev urged that Feingold now "apply leverage and incentives to drive democratic reforms in Congo."

He should work closely with Robinson "to ensure that a peace process between Congo and its neighbors addresses security, economic, and refugee issues."