Death of the Italian ambassador in the DRC: Rome demands accountability


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Two days after the death of the Italian diplomat in the attack on a World Food Program (WFP) convoy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, emotions remain strong in the country. But not only. Many questions also remain. The country wants answers and as quickly as possible. The head of the Italian diplomacy Luigi Di Maio did not go there by four ways in calling on the UN and the PAM to open an investigation to shed light “on what happened” and more precisely on “the reasons justifying the security system put in place and who is responsible for these decisions”, he told the deputies.

Italy in mourning and angry

The emotion that crosses the country is understandable: Luca Attanasio was the youngest diplomat in Italy. He died of gunshot wounds when the WFP convoy he was traveling in was ambushed in the province of North Kivu (east), near the border with Rwanda. His Italian bodyguard, rifleman Vittorio Iacovacci, and a Congolese WFP driver, Mustapha Milambo, were also killed. It is to better understand what exactly happened that Luigi Di Maio demanded “as quickly as possible, clear and exhaustive answers”, he added.

A team dispatched to the site alongside the UN and WFP

North Kivu is considered one of the most dangerous areas in the DRC, on the edge of Virunga national Park. However, according to aid officials, the road the convoy was traveling on did not require an escort. These assertions however seem insufficient for Rome who wants to understand how a diplomat could be in a dangerous zone without suitable protection. “We expect from the agency an in-depth report on any element useful to the program of the visit and the security measures adopted to protect the delegation”, declared the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs. If, according to him, the ambassador could decide alone the modalities of his travels in the country, the organization of this trip in the east of the DRC was the entire responsibility of the WFP. “The mission took place at the invitation of the United Nations. So the journey by car also took place within the framework of the organization planned by the WFP, ”assured the Minister.

He stressed that the Rome public prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation and dispatched a team of investigators to the scene from a special body of carabinieri, the ROS.

What we know

According to the Congolese presidency, the PAM convoy in which the ambassador was located was ambushed three kilometers from its destination, the commune of Kiwanja, in the territory of Rutshuru, in eastern DRC, when “the assailants, six in number, armed with five AK-47-type weapons and a machete ”burst in. “They carried out warning shots before forcing the occupants of the vehicles to get off and follow them into the far end of the park (Virunga national), after having shot down one of the drivers in order to create panic”, adds the presidency.

Alerted, Congolese rangers and soldiers present in the area set out in pursuit of the attackers. “500 meters (from the scene of the attack), the kidnappers shot point blank at the bodyguard (Italian), who died on the spot, and at the ambassador, wounding him in the abdomen. ”

The reconstruction of the events presented by the head of Italian diplomacy Luigi Di Maio essentially corresponds to that of the Congolese authorities, the Italian adding a detail, namely that objects were also thrown in front of the two vehicles to force them to stop. But some Italian media do not exclude the hypothesis of fatal friendly fire.

The main open question concerns the perpetrators of the attack.

Open questions

The Congolese authorities on Monday accused the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), based in eastern DRC, of ​​being responsible for the attack. In a statement sent to AFP on Tuesday, the FDLR rebels denied being involved: they “ask the Congolese authorities and Monusco (UN Mission in the DRC) to shed light on the responsibilities of this despicable assassination instead of resorting to hasty accusations ”.

The other question related to the first one is the reason for this attack, attempted kidnapping for ransom or whatever. According to the first elements, everything suggests that it was “an attempted kidnapping that went wrong”, according to Western sources in Kinshasa. “The road was considered secure and did not require a military escort,” said a European diplomat. The PAM convoy with which it was traveling consisted of two Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 vehicles. These vehicles were not armored, according to the same diplomat. “This was a targeted kidnapping that would have gone wrong. Kidnappers informed of the presence and the trip of the ambassador, wanted to seize this opportunity to make money “with a demand for ransom, estimated another diplomatic source.

Autopsy in Italy and protective measures in Kinshasa

Meanwhile, Italy is preparing for a state funeral, Luigi Di Maio said without specifying the date. The bodies of the diplomat and the young carabinieri arrived in Rome on Tuesday night aboard a military plane, a Boeing 767, in coffins wrapped in the Italian flag. Authorities will autopsy the two bodies.

An immediate consequence of this tragedy is the new measure adopted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerning diplomats accredited to Kinshasa. At the end of the crisis meeting chaired Tuesday by the Head of State Félix Tshisekedi, it was decided that “all diplomats present on the national territory are now obliged to report any movement within the country. to the government, ”the Congolese presidency said in a statement.

Diplomats “must absolutely inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” before any trip and “report” to local officials upon their arrival in an entity, said the head of Congolese diplomacy Marie-Thérèse Tumba Nzeza on state television, RTNC.

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