While traveling in a UN protected convoy, Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and two others were killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CNN).
Near the city of Goma, six assailants fired upon the two vehicles, killing a Congolese driver instantly (BBC). Next, the instigators took the passengers captive, and began moving through the clandestine Virunga National Park. A patrol of park rangers quickly intervened to save the captives, but the ambassador and his military police guard were fatally shot escaping. Several other passengers were injured (BBC).
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the aim of the convoy was simply to visit one of the school feeding programs in eastern DRC. The route in the ambush zone was previously considered secure by UN peacekeeping forces, meaning the journey didn’t require an armed escort. This explains Attanasio’s light protection.
The motives behind this attack are presently unknown, as are the assailants (BBC). However, the interior ministry has promptly blamed a Hutu militant group: Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Other reports have not yet confirmed this.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio condemned the killings and expressed his grief, “Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families… No effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.” Attanasio is the first foreign ambassador killed in the DRC since Philippe Bernard, a French ambassador, was killed in 1997.
In a larger context, these killings testify to the perpetual instability of this region. 20 years ago, the DRC was at civil war — often referred to as Africa’s Great War, 1994 – 2003 (BBC). Five million lives were lost in this conflict, resolved largely through UN peacekeeping efforts. Although the official war has ended, and 17,000 UN personnel occupy the DRC, violent guerrilla militias continue to operate in the region.
ARTICLE: DAVID NISSING
WORLD NEWS EDITOR: LUKE LEBAR
PHOTO CREDITS: THE SACRAMENTO BEE