Italian ambassador to DRC killed in an attack on UN convoy
Two others have died as attackers target the world body
Italy’s ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo died with two others on Monday after an attack on a UN convoy, the Italian foreign ministry said.
The convoy was attacked near the town of Kanyamahoro, in the east of the country, at about 10.15am local time, park authorities and diplomats said.
The assault was part of a kidnap attempt, Virunga National Park told Reuters news agency.
Ambassador Luca Attanasio was moved from the scene of the attack after park rangers intervened, but later died, the park said. An Italian police officer accompanying the ambassador, Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, was also killed, as was a Congolese driver.
Attanasio, 43, had represented Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, the foreign ministry said. He joined the diplomatic service in 2003 and previously served in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great dismay and immense sorrow”, breaking off 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,” Mr Di Maio said. He paid tribute to the Italian victims by describing them as “two servants of the state”.
Many armed groups operate in and around Virunga, which lies along the country’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Six rangers were killed there in January.
Politicians across Italy expressed condolences for the ambassador and the police officer.
“The Italian Republic is in mourning for these servants of the state who lost their lives in the fulfilment of their professional duties in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
New Prime Minister Mario Draghi also expressed his condolences on behalf of the whole Italian government and himself.
EU Commission spokeswoman Babila Massarali said the attack was “extremely worrying, and we are following the situation closely with the EU delegation” in the DRC.
European Council President Charles Michel also tweeted his condolences.
“Shocked by the attack of a convoy and the lost lives, including those of the Italian ambassador and a military man,” he wrote.
“Security and peace must be ensured. We will remain alongside the DRC and its population.”
The resource-rich nation, the size of Western Europe, suffered through a brutal colonial reign before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship.
Back-to-back civil wars later drew in neighbouring countries. Many rebel groups have come and gone during the UN mission’s years of operation, at times invading Goma, the capital of the eastern region where the ambassador was killed.
The election of President Felix Tshisekedi, in January 2019, was DRC’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
He succeeded Joseph Kabila in a disputed election marked by allegations of widespread fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Mr Kabila to appoint Mr Tshisekedi over an opposition candidate who, according to leaked electoral data, was the real winner.
The UN peacekeeping mission, known by its acronym Monusco, has been working to reduce its troop presence from about 16,000 at present and transfer its security work to Congolese authorities.
Attanasio was awarded the Nassiriya International Prize for Peace in October 2020 in a ceremony held in a church in southern Italy. The award is named in memory of the 19 Italians, including 12 Carabinieri paramilitary officers, five soldiers and two Italian civilians, killed in the bombing of the Italian military base in the southern Iraqi city in 2003. Nine others were also killed.
Attanasio was cited for “his commitment aimed at safeguarding peace between peoples” and for “having contributed to the realisation of important humanitarian projects, distinguishing himself for altruism, dedication and the spirit of service for people in difficulty”, the newspaper La Repubblica reported in its account of the ceremony.
It quoted Attanasio as saying: “All that which we take for granted in Italy isn’t in Congo, where, unfortunately, there are so many problems to resolve.”
He described the role of the ambassador there as “above all to be close to the Italians but also to contribute to achieving peace,” the article said.
About 1,000 Italians live in Congo.
Updated: February 22, 2021 07:52 PM