Burundi's president has appointed the former leader of a violent youth group linked to the ruling party as his foreign minister.

In a Cabinet reshuffle announced Thursday night, President Pierre Nkurunziza appointed Ezechiel Nibigira to replace Alain Aime Nyamitwe as foreign minister.

The choice is controversial in the East African nation because Nibigira once led the Imbonerakure, the ruling party's youth wing, which has faced repeated accusations of rights abuses against civilians.

Human Rights Watch and others have documented some of the group's alleged crimes, including murder.

Burundi has been plagued by violence since April 2015, when protests broke out after Nkurunziza sought a disputed third term, leaving an estimated 1,200 people dead.

Burundi next month holds a referendum that could change the constitution to allow Nkurunziza to rule longer.