Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Italy’s ambassador killed in attack on emergency aid column in Congo


According to initial reports, Ambassador Luca Attanasio was injured when gunmen attacked a column from the World Food Program (WFP) north of Goma in eastern Congo.

The ambassador was on his way from Goma to visit a school project under the auspices of WFP in Rutshuru.

Shortly afterwards, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed that both the ambassador and his Italian bodyguard, police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, had been killed.

UN soldiers guard the area where the attack on the UN convoy took place. Photo: Justin Kabumba

The Congolese driver was also killed, according to local sources.

The wounded were taken to a nearby UN hospital.

Trusted as a safe way

According to WFP, the column used a road that had previously been cleared for transport without safety cards. The organization is now trying to find out what happened.

The attack took place in the same area where two Britons were abducted in 2018, according to Mambo Kaway, who heads a local community group.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella condemns the attack in North Kivu and describes it as cowardly.

“The Italian republic mourns those who served the country and lost their lives,” Mattarella said in a statement.

Feared militia

That same evening, the Congolese Ministry of the Interior issued a written statement claiming that the Rwandan FDLR militia was behind it.

The FDLR was established in eastern Congo in 2000 by Hutus from Rwanda’s former government army and Interhamwe militia, who six years earlier were behind the genocide of around 800,000 people in Rwanda, mainly from the Tutsi minority.

The militia has since spread terror in eastern Congo and is accused of murder, mass rape and other abuses against the civilian population.

UN troops and console security forces are guarding the site of the attack.

UN troops and console security forces are guarding the site of the attack. Photo: Justin Kabumba

– A column from the World Food Program (WFP) was the victim of an armed attack carried out by members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the ministry writes.

It also states that four people were abducted, one of whom has been found.

Shotgun

North Kivu Governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita says the attackers took control of the vehicles and took them out into the bush, but that locals saw them and alerted the authorities.

The army and guards in Virunga National Park thus came to the rescue. A spokesman for the national park says it was probably an attempt to abduct UN personnel.

– There was an exchange of fire. The attackers fired at the ambassador and the bodyguard, Kasivita said.

The country’s foreign minister Marie Tumba Nzenza has sent her condolences to Italy and promised that the Congolese authorities will do everything they can to investigate the killings and find out who is behind it.

Borderland

Several armed groups operate in the Virunga National Park, which is located in the border area with Uganda and Rwanda and is famous for its gorillas. Nearly 200 park rangers have been killed in the national park in the last 20 years.

In November last year, more than 30 people were killed in the local authorities described as a mass execution of civilians in the area. An extremist Ugandan Islamist group is accused of being behind it.

More than 2,000 civilians were killed in eastern Congo last year. The area has for years been ravaged by a myriad of brutal militia groups, which has also led to 5.2 million people being forced to flee.

Luca Attanasio was 43 years old and a career diplomat. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

(© NTB)



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