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Italian ambassador to DR Congo killed in attack on UN convoy

Luca Attanasio was traveling in a United Nations convoy in the east of the country

The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo was killed in an attack in the east of the country, his foreign ministry said.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died in hospital on Monday after the United Nations convoy he was traveling in was targeted near Goma, according to a statement.

The convoy would belong to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

An Italian military police officer traveling with the envoy and a Congolese driver were also killed.

“It is with deep sadness that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms the death, today in Goma, of the Italian ambassador,” the ministry statement said.

The attack in North Kivu province was believed to have been an attempted kidnapping, according to officials from the nearby Virunga National Park.

What do we know about the attack?

Mr. Attanasio was a passenger in one of two vehicles traveling about 15 km north of Goma when the attack took place on Monday morning.

The vehicles were “ambushed by a group of six attackers, who fired warning shots before taking all the passengers into Virunga National Park,” the governor of the Northern Province told the BBC. Kivu, Carly Nzanzu.

Peacekeepers secure scene where Italian Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio was killed in Ruhimba village

Security forces guard the area where the attack took place Monday morning

“That’s when a rangers patrol from Virunga National Park intervened and managed to free four people,” he said.

“Unfortunately, before fleeing, the attackers shot the ambassador and his bodyguard, and they killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” added the governor.

A Congolese general addresses a MONUSCO officer in the Virunga national park - February 22

Virunga are considered one of the most dangerous parks in Africa

WFP said Attanasio was traveling from Goma to visit a “school program” in the village of Rutshuru in eastern DR Congo.

The attack … occurred on a road that had already been cleared for traffic without a security escort, ”the Rome-based agency said in a statement.

The other two dead were military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, who had served at the embassy since last September, and their Congolese driver, who was named Moustapha Milambo in the media.

A number of other passengers were reportedly injured.

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It is not known who was behind the attack, but the Interior Ministry has accused a Hutu rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Many armed groups are known to operate in and around the park, and militias regularly clash in the east of the country, where a large UN force is fighting to keep the peace.

The DRC army has deployed troops to help search the area.

Questions about an apparent lack of security

Analysis by Emery Makumeno, BBC News, Kinshasa

Mr. Attanasio is the first ambassador killed in the country since the French ambassador Philippe Bernard was shot dead during riots in the capital, Kinshasa, in 1997.

Normally, aid convoys traveling in eastern DR Congo are heavily guarded by UN troops, and questions will inevitably be asked about the security level of Mr. Attanasio’s convoy.

He was traveling in the east – the most volatile part of DR Congo. Numerous local armed groups – as well as those from Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda – have settled in the region over the past 25 years.

The attack highlights the fact that the stability of the region will only return if a solution is found to the political problems in all of these countries.

What was the reaction?

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi issued a statement offering his “deepest condolences”, while President Sergio Mattarella condemned “the cowardly attack”.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great shock and sorrow” at the “brutal” killings.

“Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families,” he said, adding: “No effort will be spared to shed light on what has happened”.

DR Congo’s foreign minister Marie Tumba Nzeza said an investigation into the killings was underway.

Mr. Attanasio represented Italy in DR Congo since 2017. He joined the diplomatic service in 2003 and has spent time in Morocco and Nigeria.

What is the situation in DR Congo?

DR Congo was for many years at the center of a brutal civil war which attracted in several neighboring countries.

The conflict resulted in the loss of around five million lives between 1994 and 2003, some observers calling it the Great African War.

But the end of the conflict did not mark the end of the violence. Dozens of militias and rebel groups continue to operate in the eastern regions.

The UN peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999. It is one of the largest peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 17,000 people on the ground.

Virunga – stretching over 7,800 km2 (3,000 square miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.

In 2018, a ranger was killed and three people – including two British tourists – were kidnapped when their vehicle was ambushed in Virunga National Park. The kidnapped were then released.

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