Italian envoy killed in DR Congo attack blamed on Rwandan Hutu rebels
Published: Feb 23, 2021 05:43 PM

Supporters attend a campaign rally of incumbent Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Monday in Gakenke ahead of the August 4 presidential election. Kagame and his Rwanda Patriotic Front Party have held an iron grip on power since overthrowing the extremist Hutu regime, which perpetrated the 1994 genocide of 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis. Photo: AFP

Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was among three people killed on Monday when a UN convoy was ambushed in the country's troubled east, violence the DRC's president called a "terrorist attack" and that was blamed on a Rwandan Hutu rebel group.

Luca Attanasio died of his wounds after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy came under gunfire near Goma while he was on a field trip to visit a school feeding program, according to a senior diplomatic source in Kinshasa and the WFP.

The Italian government confirmed Attanasio's death and said an Italian policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a driver it did not identify, had also died.

UN peacekeepers and Congolese troops deployed to the rural area in Kibumba where the attack occurred, walking a dirt track between overgrown brush as they readied to recover bodies and track down the assailants.

A white WFP vehicle had at least one broken window and residents looked on as soldiers made their way through the brush.

A merchant in the area said he saw a body on the ground.

The assailants were "running with the people who were in the cars, in the buses," Julien Amani Kiza told AFP.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed what he called a "cowardly attack."

Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio expressed his "great dismay and immense sorrow," breaking off from a Brussels meeting with EU counterparts to return to Rome.

In a statement, the DRC's President Felix Tshisekedi said he "condemns very strongly this terrorist attack" and promised an inquiry.

Earlier, the interior ministry had blamed the killings on "members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)," a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century.

Four people were kidnapped, one of whom was later found, the ministry said.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed "shock" at the attack, in a region "where the population suffers unacceptable violence."