Italian ambassador to DR Congo dies in attack on UN convoy

Italian ambassador to DR Congo dies in attack on UN convoy 

Major Guillaume Djike, the army's spokesman in North Kivu province told AFP that two others have also died in the attack. Other sources said the two were the envoy's driver and bodyguard.

Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was killed on Monday when a UN convoy came under attack in the troubled east, DRC sources and the government in Rome said.

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and two other people have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in the restive east of the vast central African country.

The convoy from the World Food Programme was attacked at about 10.15am local time (0815 GMT) during an attempted kidnap near the town of Kanyamahoro, about 10 miles north of the regional capital, Goma, a spokesperson for Virunga national park said.

Luca Attanasio and a military policeman travelling with him were killed, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement. A driver also died in the attack, diplomatic sources and local officials said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but the road on which the convoy was travelling is a frequent site of attacks by bandits and armed militia.

Luca Attanasio died of his wounds after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy came under fire near Goma, a senior diplomatic source said in Kinshasa.

Two other people also died in the attack, Major Guillaume Djike, the army's spokesman in North Kivu province told AFP. Other sources said the two were the envoy's driver and bodyguard.

Attanasio's death was confirmed in Rome by the Italian foreign ministry, which also said an Italian policeman died.

Attanasio, who had been appointed to the DRC in early 2018, 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 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.

“It is with deep sorrow that the foreign ministry confirms the death today in Goma of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, and of a policemen from the carabinieri,” the Italian foreign ministry statement said.

“The ambassador and the soldier were travelling in a car in a convoy of Monusco, the United Nations Organisation stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” it said.

Attanasio died of his wounds in the UN hospital in Goma. He had been Italy’s head of mission in Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.

The UN’s peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance mission in the DRC is one of the biggest and most dangerous such operations in the world.

“There were around five people in the vehicle … The driver appears to have been killed [immediately] after receiving multiple bullet wounds but others were wounded and taken to the Monusco base … The situation is tense,” Mambo Kawaya, the president of civil society groups in Nyiragongo territory, told Actualité.cd, a local news site.

Dozens of armed groups operate in and around Virunga, which lies along DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Park rangers have been repeatedly attacked, including six who were killed in an ambush last month.

In May 2018, gunmen attacked a vehicle carrying tourists travelling from Goma to their accommodation in Virunga national park close to where Attanasio’s convoy was ambushed. A 25-year-old ranger was shot dead, a Congolese driver was wounded and two British tourists were held by the militia overnight.