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Italian Ambassador killed in DR Congo: Kidnapping gone Wrong?

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The bodies of the Italian Ambassador killed in DR Congo and his bodyguard arrived back in Rome a day after an ambush in eastern Congo had cost them their lives.

Luca Attanasio, was an experienced diplomat, known for his humanitarian work. He served as Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2019. On 22 February, he was one of the three people killed in an attack on a humanitarian convoy near Goma.

Actually, the North Kivu Province is quite infamous for violent activities and the home of several dozen armed groups. It lies right next to the border with Rwanda.

Reportedly, DR Congo officials are blaming the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). However, an FDLR spokesperson said that more than 100 militias operate in the region, saying he doesn’t know why his group is being singled out.

The What and the Where

Ambassador Attanasio, was on a field trip with the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The convoy was going to see a school feeding program in Rutshuru. They left Goma at approximately 9:00 AM, local time, on Monday.

An armed group stopped the vehicles around 10:15 AM, forcing all the passengers to disembark:

  • The convoy ran into an ambush three kilometres from their destination;
  • There were six assailants, with five AK-47 assault rifles and a machete.

The attackers fired warning shots before taking all the passengers into the Virunga National Park. They killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack. The remaining six passengers were then forced into the surrounding bush at gunpoint where there was an exchange of fire.

“That’s when a patrol of Virunga National Park rangers intervened and managed to free four people. Unfortunately, before they ran away, the assailants shot the ambassador and his bodyguard, and they killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, said.

Italian Ambassador killed in DR Congo: Who is to Blame?

Italian Ambassador killed in DR Congo: one of the vehicles in the convoy

FDLR rejected the allegations of their involvement, blaming the Rwandan army and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).

The FDLR said the shooting happened in an area where both DR Congo and Rwanda maintain a military presence. So, any investigation should take that into account.

The group was established by ethnic Hutus accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Approximately, 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority, died in this horrific event.

They fled to Congo and their presence influenced heavily twenty years of conflict in the region.

However, many other militias have also established themselves in eastern DR Congo:

  • local ones,
  • from Burundi,
  • the Central African Republic, and,
  • Uganda.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999. It is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 17,000 personnel.

Apparent security lapse?

Ambassador Attanasio is the first ambassador to be killed in the country since 1997 – when French ambassador Philippe Bernard was shot dead during riots in Kinshasa. Usually, all aid convoys operating in the region are under heavy UN guard.

This raises questions concerning the level of security afforded to the ambassador’s convoy.

The route they were on is considered one of the most unstable in the whole of the country – with militants present in the region for a quarter of the century.

In Short: The Situation in DR Congo

  • DR Congo was for many years at the centre of a brutal civil war.
  • This conflict drew in several neighboring countries.
  • Between 1994 and 2003, the war led to the loss of some 5 million lives.
  • Some observers call it Africa’s Great War.
  • But the end of the conflict did not mark an end to the violence.
  • Dozens of militias and rebel groups continue to operate in eastern areas.
  • The UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999.
  • Virunga is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.
  • In 2018, a ranger was killed, along with three people – including two British tourists.
  • They were kidnapped when their vehicle was ambushed in the Virunga National Park.

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