The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been killed in an attack on a UN convoy in the country.
Luca Attanasio, 44, was killed along with an Italian soldier and a second man – believed to be his driver – in the ambush near Goma, Congo’s eastern regional capital in the territory of Nyrangongo, in North Kivu on Monday.
Attanasio, who was married, suffered ‘gunshot wounds to the abdomen’ and was taken to hospital in critical condition.
He later died of his wounds at the Level III Indian Field Hospital.
Luca Attanasio (left), the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been killed during an attack on a UN convoy
The diplomat had been based in the DRC for the last three years, Italian officials said. The officer who died alongside him was aged 30.
Attanasio, who was typically based in the capital Kinshasa, had been taking part in a World Food Programme visit to the country’s troubled east when he was attacked.
No information on the attackers was given and no group has yet claimed responsibility. The military said that it is hunting for those responsible.
Mambo Kaway, president of a local civil society group in the Nyrangongo territory, said: ‘There were five people aboard the vehicle, including the Italian ambassador. The driver died after being shot with several bullets, and others were wounded.
‘The situation is very tense.’
A spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry said: ‘It is with deep sorrow that the Farnesina confirms the death, today in Goma, of the Ambassador of Italy to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and of a soldier from the Carabinieri.’
In a separate statement, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his ‘great dismay and immense sorrow’ and broke 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, paying tribute to the victims as ‘two servants of the state’.
Attanasio (left) had been based in the DRC for the last three years, Italian officials said
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell informed the bloc’s foreign ministers of the incident at the meeting and presented his condolences to Italy and the United Nations.
‘The news (is) extremely worrying, and we are following the situation closely with the EU delegation in Congo,’ said EU Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.
A vast country the size of continental western Europe, the DRC is grappling with numerous conflicts, especially in its remote, mineral-rich east.
Scores of militias roam the four eastern provinces. Many are a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
Monday’s attack occurred north of Goma – a region that includes the UNESCO-listed Virunga National Park, which has also been troubled by violence.
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 last year.
The attacks by brutal armed groups have also displaced millions in what the UN calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
There are 5.2 million people displaced in the DRC, according to the United Nations Children’s Agency, which said in a report on Friday that this represents more displaced than in any other country except Syria. In the past year alone, 50 per cent of people have been displaced, it said.
Monday’s attack occurred north of Goma – a region that includes the UNESCO-listed Virunga National Park, which has also been troubled by violence
The resource-rich nation suffered one of the most brutal colonial reigns ever known before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship.
Back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighbouring countries. And many rebel groups have come and gone during the UN mission’s years of operation, at times invading the eastern regional capital, Goma, where the ambassador was killed.
In January 2019, Congo experienced its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 following the election of President Felix Tshisekedi.
He succeeded strongman Joseph Kabila in a disputed election marked by allegations of large-scale fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Mr Kabila to install Mr Tshisekedi over an opposition candidate who, according to leaked electoral data, was the real winner.
The UN peacekeeping mission has been working to draw down its 15,000-troop presence and transfer its security work to Congolese authorities.
More to follow…