Ordinary violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) claimed the life of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio on the morning of Monday, February 22, following an ambush by an armed group 25 kilometers north of Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu. The 43-year-old diplomat, in office since 2019, was traveling with a delegation from the World Food Program (WFP) to Rutshuru, a town further north on National Road 2 (RN2), in the heart of Virunga National Park.
He was to visit a school canteen there installed by the UN agency, recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. His security attaché, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a WFP driver, Mustapha Milambo, were also killed in the attack. At this stage, there is nothing to confirm that the attackers had premeditated their action against the UN mission, or that it was a disastrous coincidence.
“There was no sign that an attack was going to occur in this area” Jean Metenier, head of the Unicef office in Goma
The convoy of two WFP vehicles would have left Goma less than an hour ago when, at around 10 a.m., in the locality of Kibumba, six armed men blocked the road by firing shots in the air, according to the report. the story of the governor of North Kivu, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita. The seven passengers are then ordered to get out of the 4 x 4. Less than a kilometer from there, the sound of the shots alerted the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC, the Congolese army) and the eco-guards of the park. Virunga, who march towards the scene of the attack.
“To force [leurs victimes] to leave the road and go deep into the bush, they killed the PAM driver ”, continues the governor. “Then, they are quickly caught by the Armed Forces and shots are exchanged. After a few minutes, the Italian ambassador’s bodyguard reportedly told him to get up and run with him to escape. “ Luca Attanasio died of abdominal injuries after being transported to the United Nations Mission in Congo (Monusco) Hospital in Goma. Vittorio Iacovacci was killed on the spot. All other hostages were released, according to the provincial chief.
“There was no sign that an attack was going to occur in this area. The number of incidents declared by the populations had been falling in recent weeks and we were in the process of reducing the number of red roads, those which must be used only under the escort of MONUSCO ”, testifies Jean Metenier, head of the Unicef office in Goma. From Goma to Rutshuru, the RN2 is classified yellow. The only obligation is to travel with two vehicles and to be linked by radio to the United Nations security center. The WFP convoy was therefore not imprudent with regard to the rules in force.
Embassies have their own security rules. Local authorities deplore not having been informed of the trip of the Italian diplomat. “Normally, the ambassadors communicate their program to us, and an audience with them is always scheduled”, the governor of North Kivu said.
Tuesday, the UN security department, a service created after the attack on the institution’s headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, all the agencies present in Goma as well as MONUSCO were to meet to examine the situation. . Without delay, all operations involving taking this main North Kivu axis were suspended, “Until[’ils obtiennent] information on the exact circumstances of this attack ”, specifies Unicef, which notably provides logistics to deal with the resurgence of the Ebola virus in the Butembo region, located 300 kilometers north of Goma.
In a message read by his spokesperson on national television, President Félix Tshisekedi condemned “With the greatest firmness [une] terrorist attack “, and asked that“An investigation be carried out to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice”. However, the interior ministry was quick to identify the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group very active in the region, as the culprits. According to witnesses, the attackers spoke in Kinyarwanda, the language spoken in Rwanda.
Pierre Boisselet, coordinator of the Kivu security barometer, is more cautious: “The FDLR are not the only ones to speak Kinyarwanda, other groups present in the region speak it, such as the Nyatura or the ex-M23. “ The researchers, who published Monday a map of armed groups in eastern Congo, identify 45 groups in North Kivu, whose grip varies greatly. But their methods of obtaining income are identical: roadblocks, kidnappings for ransoms of several thousand dollars, taxes levied on the peasants.
And the Virunga park, the oldest park in Africa, known to shelter the last mountain gorillas, until now offers an inexhaustible source of trafficking (charcoal, ivory, illegal fishing on Lake Edward…). Twenty environmental guards died in 2020 while fighting against poaching or in interventions against armed groups. In 2018, two British tourists had already been kidnapped less than 5 kilometers from where the WFP convoy was attacked. They were released after a few days.
2,000 dead civilians
“Today we are all sad. Will this tragedy finally make people aware that we must act against armed groups? “, asks Olivier Ndole, lawyer and executive secretary of the NGO Congolese Alert for the Environment and Human Rights (ACEDH). “These men are just bandits, without a political agenda, who can only continue to extort the population and loot resources with the help of local politicians. We have never stopped appealing to the international community to come to our aid. “ More than 2,000 civilians died as a result of armed violence in Kivu between January 2019 and October 2020, according to the region’s security barometer.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called on the DRC to“To investigate diligently” on the attack on Kibumba, which was condemned by the 15 members of the Security Council. Luca Attanasio was married and the father of three daughters. He arrived in the DRC in 2017 as head of mission, before being appointed ambassador in 2019.
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