Italy repatriates ambassador and bodyguard killed in Congo


FILE PHOTO: A view shows shuttered car windows at the scene where the Italian ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, Italian military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci and Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo from the World Food Programme were killed in an attempted kidnap when their convoy was attacked in Ruhimba village, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sammy Mupfuni

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - A military plane left eastern Congo for Italy on Tuesday loaded with the bodies of Italy's ambassador and his bodyguard in coffins draped in Italian flags, a day after they were shot dead in an ambush on a United Nations convoy.

Ambassador Luca Attanasio, 43, and his bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, were killed while travelling in a World Food Programme convoy to visit a school feeding project. WFP driver Mustapha Milambo was also killed.

The two wooden coffins were loaded onto an Italian military cargo plane in the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Rwandan border. The plane then took off for Rome.

According to Congo's presidency, the two-car convoy had been stopped on the road north from Goma by six armed men, who killed driver Milambo and led the six other passengers away. Army and park rangers tracked the group and a firefight ensued, during which the kidnappers shot the two Italians.

RWANDAN REBELS DENY BLAME

Congo's interior ministry has blamed a Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebel militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) for the attack. The FDLR, one of around 120 armed groups operating in eastern Congo, denied responsibility for what it called a "cowardly assassination".

"The FDLR declare that they are in no way involved in the attack," the group said in a statement.

The local governor said that the assailants spoke the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda.

The FDLR, founded by Rwandan former officers and militiamen who the United Nations and others blame for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has been blamed for previous kidnappings, including of two British tourists held for several days in May 2018.

President Felix Tshisekedi dispatched his top diplomatic adviser to Goma to support an investigation by local authorities, and a Congolese envoy in Rome would present a letter from Tshisekedi to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Congo's presidency said.

Dario Tedesco, an Italian volcanologist based in Goma, paid tribute to his friend Attanasio.

"He was able to talk to all of us, completely different because, he was adapting himself to each of us, (making) us feeling we were important," Tedesco said. "He believed in what he was doing and this shouldn’t have been his final journey."

(Corrects number of passengers to six, in paragraph 40

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba and Hereward Holland; writing by Hereward Holland; editing by Nellie Peyton, Philippa Fletcher, Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

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