Kerry taps new US envoy to Africa's Great Lakes

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with then-Congressman Tom Perriello during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on October 29, 2010 (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday announced Thomas Perriello as the new US special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, replacing a rights champion that Congo's government accused of meddling in its internal affairs.

Perriello, a lawyer and former one-term congressman from Virginia, recently conducted a State Department diplomacy review, and has also advised the International Court for Sierra Leone where he worked on issues involving mass atrocities and the use of child soldiers.

"Tom is a person of deep convictions who is driven by a strong commitment to justice and human rights," Kerry said in a statement announcing the appointment, whose portfolio includes Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

"His priorities will be to strive -- in coordination with local officials and international partners -- to spur progress towards lasting peace, stability, and development throughout the region, including the strengthening of democratic institutions and civil society and the safe and voluntary return of refugees and the internally displaced."

Perriello, 40, replaces Russ Feingold, who stepped down in March and is now a candidate to win back his former seat in the US Senate.

Feingold was widely credited with helping to broker a 2013 peace deal with M23 rebels in the Congo, ending two decades of hostilities.

He led an international push toward ending the threat of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu militia based in eastern Congo.

Feingold had also been vocal in calling on Congolese President Joseph Kabila not to amend the constitution to extend his term in office, pressure that a Congo government spokesman denounced as "interference" in DR Congo's affairs.