AFP/Reuters/Goma, DR Congo
Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) was among three people killed yesterday when a UN convoy came under attack in the troubled east, Congo sources and the Italian government said.
Luca Attanasio died of his wounds after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy came under gunfire near Goma while he was on a field trip, a senior diplomatic source said in Kinshasa.
The Italian government confirmed Attanasio’s death and said an Italian police officer, Vittorio Iacovacci, as well as a local driver it did not identify, had also died.
President Sergio Mattarella lashed what he called a “cowardly attack”.
“The Italian republic is in mourning for these servants of the state who lost their lives,” he said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great dismay and immense sorrow”, breaking off from a meeting in Brussels with EU counterparts to make an early return to Rome.
“The circumstances of this brutal attack are not yet known and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened,” Di Maio said.
His Congolese opposite number Marie-Therese Tumba Nzeza offered Italy the DR Congo government’s condolences for “this huge loss”, pledging in a video sent to media to “do everything to find out who is behind this despicable murder”.
Attanasio, 43, had been representing Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, first as head of mission, and then as ambassador from October 2019.
The envoy suffered “gunshot wounds to the abdomen” and was taken to a hospital in Goma in critical condition, the diplomat in Kinshasa said.
The DR Congo’s army said its troops were searching the area for the assailants.
A vast country the size of continental Western Europe, the DR Congo is grappling with numerous conflicts, especially in its remote, mineral-rich east.
Scores of militias roam the four eastern provinces, many of them a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
The Rome-based WFP said that Attanasio was on a fact-finding mission with the UN’s food agency.
“The delegation was travelling from Goma to visit a WFP school feeding programme in Rutshuru when the incident took place,” it said in a statement.
“The attack ... occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” it said.
The convoy was attacked about 10.15am (0815 GMT) in an attempted kidnap near the town of Kanyamahoro, about 25km (15 miles) north of the regional capital Goma, a spokesman for the Virunga National Park told Reuters.
Armed groups in the area include a Rwandan Hutu militia called the FDLR, as well as the M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
The governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, told Reuters that the assailants stopped the convoy by firing warning shots.
They killed the driver and were leading the others into the forest when park rangers opened fire.
The attackers killed the bodyguard and the ambassador also died, Nzanzu said.
The region includes the Unesco-listed Virunga National Park, a vast wildlife reserve that is home to a quarter of the world’s population of critically endangered mountain gorillas.
More than 200 of the park’s rangers have been killed in attacks stretching back more than a decade.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said last week that more than 2,000 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu and Ituri province last year.
Attanasio joined the Italian diplomatic service in 2003 and served previously in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria.
He was hailed as “a man gifted with uncommon courage, humanity and professionalism” by Emanuela Del Re, who was deputy foreign minister from 2018 until last month.
Del Re said she worked with Attanasio on the emergency repatriation of a “very sick” nun from DR Congo.
“I remember his infectious smile, his class, his great knowledge of African affairs,” she said. “Ciao (good-bye) my dear esteemed Luca.”
Attanasio was married and had three young daughters, according to his Facebook page.
“He was an enthusiastic young diplomat with a great sensitivity to social problems,” said Mauro Garofolo at the Sant’Egidio charity based in Rome. “He closely followed our work such as our programme to help HIV/Aids sufferers.”
Attanasio is the second European ambassador to have been killed while serving in the DR Congo.
In January 1993, French ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by troops opposing dictator Mobutu Sese Seke.
Yesterday’s attack was in the same village where two British tourists were briefly kidnapped in 2018, leading the Virunga National Park to close to tourists for nine months.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
eSwatini king claims Covid-19 recovery after Taiwan sent drugs
Gunfire in Mogadishu as political tensions soar
South Africa advisers back Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after study
Gunfire in Mogadishu as political tensions soar
Libyans remember revolution that ousted Gaddafi
Airport robots give hi-tech boost to Kenya's Covid-19 fight
C.Africa football boss and 'Rambo' on trial for war crimes
Nigerian Okonjo-Iweala makes history as WTO chief
Police arrest protesters at symbolic Lagos tollgate