Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was among three people killed in an ambush on a World Food Program convoy in the country’s restive east, an area where rebel groups have been launching attacks on civilians and the military since the 1990s.
who had been stationed in Congo since 2017, an Italian military policeman who acted as the ambassador’s bodyguard and a Congolese driver for the WFP were shot Monday on their way to visit a feeding program at a local school, the United Nations emergency nutrition agency said. Several other members of the seven-person convoy were injured, the WFP and the U.N. Operations and Crisis Centre said.
Congo’s Interior Ministry said the assailants were members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, without citing evidence. The FDLR, which grew out of Hutu militias that fled to Congo following the Rwandan genocide, has been terrorizing civilians in the mineral-rich region for more than two decades.
Monday’s attack happened on the outskirts of the Virunga National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site known for its mountain gorillas. In 2018, two British tourists were kidnapped and later released at the same spot.
In a statement, the WFP said the road that the convoy was driving on had been cleared for travel without the security escorts that are common for official missions in eastern Congo.
The FDLR has been blamed for several recent attacks in the vicinity of Virunga park, including an ambush in April last year that left 16 people, including 12 of the park’s rangers, dead. In January, six park rangers were killed by unknown assailants.
Virunga rangers also intervened in Monday’s attack, the Interior Ministry said. They took Mr. Attanasio, who was 43 years old and had been shot in the abdomen, to a hospital run by the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the nearby city of Goma, where he died of his injuries.
Congo’s foreign minister, Ntumba Nzenza, said authorities were still investigating the ambush. “I promise the Italian government that the government of my country will do everything possible to find out who was behind this despicable murder,” she said.
The FDLR is one of dozens of rebel groups operating in eastern Congo. Its most-senior commander,
who was wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes including murder, torture and rape, was killed by the Congolese military in 2019.
U.N. investigators and human-rights groups say the FDLR and other militias have been exploiting the region for its minerals and other raw materials, such as charcoal, and have kidnapped and killed countless civilians. Last year, more than 2,000 civilians were killed in the region, while violence has uprooted more than five million people during the past two years, the U.N. Refugee Agency said last week.
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Appeared in the February 23, 2021, print edition as ‘Italy’s Envoy Killed in Congo Attack.’
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