Words by Ewan Vellinga

Three people including Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio were killed during an attempted kidnapping in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 22 February. 

Vittorio Iacovacci, an Italian Embassy official, and Mustapha Milambo, a driver, were also killed during the attack.  

They were all travelling in a United Nations (UN) convoy for the World Food Programme (WFP) when they were attacked near Virunga national park. 

Mr Milambo was killed immediately, while Mr Iacovacci and Mr Attanasio were caught in the ensuing crossfire between the armed group and park rangers, with the ambassador later dying of his wounds in a UN hospital in the nearby city of Goma. 

The armed group responsible for the attack has not yet been named, but ambushes are not unusual in the region, with six park rangers killed in an ambush just over a month ago, and 17 people killed in another attack last year.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a rebel group with links to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, have been operating in the region for a long time, and The New York Times reports that there have been suggestions the attack my be linked to the group. 

The WFP, quoted in the New York Times, said the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” and that it would be working with Congolese authorities to determine exactly what happened. 

However, the Congolese government stated that the authorities were not informed of the ambassador’s presence in the region, which they had “deemed unstable.” 

Congo has been plagued by civil war and instability since it gained independence in 1960, with the North Kivu region, where the attack occurred, having seen renewed violence in recent years. 

The UN mission in the country has been active since 2010, after replacing a previous mission that started in 1999. Mr Attanasio was Head of the mission from 2017 until 2019, when he was appointed ambassador.  

The Italian government has expressed its condolences, with the foreign ministry saying “the circumstances of this brutal attack are yet to be known, but no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.” 

The Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marie Tumba Nzeza, also offered her condolences and said the government would do everything to “find out who is behind this despicable murder.”  

The attack has seen further condemnation from around the world.

Picture Credit: MONUSCO Photos

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