Luca Attanasio died of his wounds after a World Food Programme convoy came under fire near the eastern city of Goma.
Rwandan Hutu rebels denied allegations they were behind the killing of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and instead accused the armies of the DRC and Rwanda of responsibility.
Luca Attanasio died of his wounds on Monday after a World Food Programme convoy came under fire near the eastern city of Goma while he was on a field trip. The Italian government said an Italian policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a driver it did not identify also died.
The DRC’s interior ministry 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.
But the FDLR rejected the allegation in a statement received by AFP news agency on Tuesday.
It said the ambassador’s convoy was attacked near the Rwandan border, “not far from a position of the FARDC [DRC’s armed forces] and Rwandan soldiers”.
“The responsibility for this despicable killing is to be found in the ranks of these two armies and their sponsors who have forged an unnatural alliance to perpetuate the pillaging of eastern DRC,” it said.
The FDLR denied “being involved in the attack” and called on Kinshasa and UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO to “shed light” on the killings “instead of resorting to hasty accusations”.
DRC and Rwanda authorities have not reported the presence of any regular Rwandan troops in the DRC.
But an analyst at the Kivu Security Tracker, a US monitor, said: “The FDLR are near the place where the attack took place. It’s in the realm of possibility that the Rwandan rebels are responsible for this attack.”
Attanasio, 43, represented Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, first as head of mission and then as ambassador from October 2019.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella described the ambush as a “cowardly attack.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement urging the DRC to swiftly investigate a “heinous targeting” of a UN mission.
I strongly condemn the attack against a @WFP joint field mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which resulted in the killing of the Italian Ambassador to the country, his bodyguard & a WFP colleague.
The perpetrators must be brought to justice. https://t.co/HnlwbHLA6o
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 22, 2021
Scores of militias roam the DRC’s four eastern provinces, many a legacy of wars in the 1990s that pulled in its regional neighbours and killed millions.
Monday’s attack occurred in the thickly forested, mountainous terrain of the Nyiaragongo Territory – north of the North Kivu capital of Goma – one of the most dangerous parts of the country.
The FDLR is one of a number of armed groups operating there.
Attanasio is the second European ambassador to have been killed while serving in the DRC.
In January 1993, French Ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by troops opposing former President Mobutu Sese Seke.