KINSHASA - Democratic Republic of Congo's top police officer has been suspended to facilitate an inquiry into the death of a prominent human rights activist, officials said yesterday.

The death of Floribert Chebeya, head of local campaign group Voice of the Voiceless and whose body was found last week, has prompted concern from the United Nations and major donors such as Britain, France and the US.

"(Inspector General) John Numbi was suspended so that the Attorney General can focus on his inquiries smoothly and make sure nothing gets in the way of the investigations," said Daniel Lubo, an advisor at the interior ministry.

The move to suspend Numbi was decided at a meeting late on Saturday of Congo's Supreme Defence Council, which includes President Joseph Kabila, his prime minister and army chief. The suspension was confirmed separately by Kinshasa police chief General Jean de Dieu Oleko.

Chebeya was believed to be heading for a meeting with Numbi last Tuesday when he went missing. It is not known if he kept the meeting. Chebeya's driver Fidele Bazana has not been seen since.

Numbi, formerly an army commander and later head of the air forces, has been one of Kabila's top military advisers.

The incident, which has raised concerns from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, comes as Congo prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence from Belgian colonial rule.

Campaigners have long criticised the country's record on human rights, saying activists are under increasing threat and several fear for their lives.

Chebeya, who campaigned to uphold the constitution and improve prison conditions, had been harassed by authorities in the past and a report this year by rights group Amnesty International said he was at risk. - Reuters