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.
“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.