Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was among three people killed on Monday when a UN convoy was ambushed in the country’s troubled east, an attack the government blamed on a Rwandan Hutu rebel group.
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 policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, as well as a 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 DRC’s interior ministry, in a statement, blamed the attack on “members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR),” a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century.
Four people were kidnapped, one of whom was later found, it said.
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 DRC’s army said its troops were searching the area for the assailants.
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 of them 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 the North Kivu capital of Goma, in Nyiaragongo Territory — an area where the FDLR is one of a number of armed groups.
Some of the founders of the FDLR were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates, were slaughtered by the Hutu majority.