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DRC: ‘Likely FDLR elements’ in attack that killed Italian ambassador, says security source

By Romain Gras, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Friday, 26 February 2021 12:32

UN peacekeepers monitor the area where the convoy was attacked, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, on February 22, 2021. © Justin Kabumba / AP / SIPA

Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio, his bodyguard and driver were killed in an attack on a UN convoy on its way to DRC's Goma in North Kivu province.

The attack took place at around 10am on the morning of 22 February, about 10 kilometres from Goma, North Kivu. The World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was on its way to Rutshuru when it was attacked. According to Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, the governor of North Kivu, six attackers were involved.

According to the UN agency, “the delegation was travelling from Goma to Rutshuru to visit a WFP school feeding programme when the incident took place.” The convoy was stopped at a place called “Three Antennas”, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project by Human Rights Watch and the Groupe d’étude sur le Congo [Congo Research Group] (GEC) which monitors the activities of the many armed groups in eastern DRC.

Unknown assailants

The course of events remains unclear, but it appears that the jeep in which the Italian ambassador was travelling was first stopped by warning shots before being attacked. The assailants then reportedly attempted to kidnap the members of the convoy.

A contingent of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), which was patrolling near the scene of the attack with a unit of the Armed Forces of the DRC (Fardc), then intervened. Shots were fired and Vittorio Iacovacci, the diplomat’s bodyguard, and Mustapha Milambo, the Congolese driver of the WFP vehicle, were killed on the spot. Seriously wounded in the abdomen and transferred to a hospital, Luca Attanasio died moments later.

Several questions remain. According to the WFP, the attack occurred on a road on which the convoy was allowed to travel without escort. “The security services and provincial authorities were unable to provide special security measures for the convoy or to assist them because they had not been informed about the convoy’s presence in this part of the country,” the Ministry of the Interior and Security said in a statement at the end of the day.

The identity of the assailants is not yet known, but a security source whom we contacted laid the responsibility with “some elements of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] FDLR.” The area in which the attack took place, however, is home to several other armed groups, including Nyatura militias and members of the ex-M23.

The latest Kivu Security Tracker report mentions the presence of 122 separate armed groups in eastern DRC (North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika). This figure is down from the last survey, which focused solely on the Kivus. However, the number of civilians killed in this region, which has been plagued by insecurity for more than 25 years, has been rising sharply since the end of 2019.

A “cowardly attack”

43-year-old Attanasio had been leading Italy’s mission to Congo since 2017 and was made ambassador in October 2019.

His death, as well as that of his bodyguard and driver, provoked a wave of reactions both in the DRC and Europe. Italian President Sergio Mattarella denounced this “cowardly attack.” He added that “the Italian Republic mourns the deaths of these public servants who lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Meanwhile, Congolese minister of foreign affairs Marie Tumba Nzeza has promised that “the government of my country will do all we can to discover who is responsible for this ignoble murder.” Accompanied by Dominique Kilufya, the secretary-general for foreign affairs, the head of Congolese diplomacy visited the ambassador’s surviving wife and children.

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