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Goma: The Italian ambassador to Kinshasa was killed on Monday and two other people were shot dead during an armed attack targeting a World Food Program convoy during a visit near Goma in the eastern troubled Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to sources and his country’s government.
Luca Atanazio (43 years) died of wounds sustained when the international convoy was shot at near Goma during a field visit, according to a senior diplomatic source in Kinshasa.
The Italian government confirmed his death and indicated that policeman Vittorio Yakovaci was killed, as well as a driver, about whom no details were provided.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella denounced what he described as a “cowardly attack”.
Mattarella added that “the Italian Republic is in mourning for state employees who lost their lives while carrying out their duties”, denouncing the “violent act” carried out against their convoy.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “deep sadness and deep dissatisfaction”, announcing that he had cut short his participation in a meeting with his European counterparts in Brussels to return to Rome as soon as possible.
He added, “The circumstances of this brutal attack are not yet known, and we will spare no effort in shedding light on what happened.”
His Congolese counterpart Marie-Therese Tomba Naziza offered her government’s condolences to Italy for this “great loss,” pledging in a video recording that was distributed to the media that the DRC would “do everything in its power to uncover who is behind this shameful crime.”
Atanazio has served as Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since October 2019, after arriving in the country in 2017 as head of mission, according to his official CV.
The diplomatic source explained to France Press that after “he was seriously injured in the abdomen,” the ambassador was transferred to a hospital in Goma “in a critical condition.”
The Congolese army declared that “the Congolese armed forces are combing (the area) to find out who are the perpetrators.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a vast country the size of continental western Europe, and it is witnessing several conflicts, especially in its remote mineral-rich east.
Dozens of militias are active in the four eastern provinces, many of them formed after wars in the 1990s that swept countries around central and southern Africa, killing millions.
The World Food Program confirmed that Atanazio was on a fact-finding mission with the United Nations Food Agency.
“The delegation was traveling from Goma to visit the WFP school feeding program in Rutshuru when the attack took place … on a previously evacuated road to travel without security escorts,” the program added in a statement.
The attack on the WFP convoy took place in North Goma, the epicenter of North Kivu province that has been subjected to violence by armed groups for more than 25 years.
Armed groups in the area include the Rwandan Hutu Militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, as well as the 23M Movement, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
This area includes the Virunga National Park, a threatened tourism nature reserve, and is also a testament to the conflicts in North Kivu, where armed groups fight over control of the earth’s resources.
Virunga Park, dating back to 1925, is the oldest in Africa and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This reserve extends over 7,769 square kilometers from Goma to Beni, between mountains and forests.
The park is under surveillance by 689 armed guards, including 200 who were killed while carrying out their duties in attacks that occurred over the past decade, officials said.
And the UNHCR said last week that more than 2,000 civilians were killed in North, South Kivu and Ituri regions last year.
The murdered ambassador entered the diplomatic corps in late 2003, after completing his studies in the field of commerce at Luigi Bocconi University in Milan.
He started working in the Department of Economic Affairs before moving on to African issues and international cooperation.
Abroad, he was initially appointed as Head of the Economic and Commercial Department at the Italian Embassy in Bern (2006-2010) and then as Consul General in Casablanca, Morocco (2010-2013). After spending a period in Rome, he was appointed as a counselor at the Italian Embassy in Nigeria in 2015.
Emmanuela Del Rey, who was a deputy foreign minister from 2018 until last month, paid tribute to a “man gifted with courage, humanity and an uncommon sense of professionalism”.
Del Rey said she worked with Atanazio to repatriate a “very sick” nun from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I remember his smile radiating to those around him, his sophistication, and his great knowledge of African affairs,” she added.
“Zhao (bye) dear Respected Luka,” she added.
Atanazio is the second European ambassador to be killed while serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In January 1993, the French ambassador, Philippe Bernard, was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by forces opposing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
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