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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Rebels deny killing Italian ambassador to DR Congo

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A Rwandan Hutu rebel group has denied involvement in the killing of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died in eastern DR Congo on Monday after a UN convoy he was travelling in came under fire.

Officials blamed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

A FDLR spokesperson said that more than 100 militias operated in the region, and he did not know why his group had been singled out by DR Congo officials.

“We did not have a role in that heinous assassination,” FDLR’s Cure Ngoma told the BBC Great Lakes.

What happened?

The attack, about 15km (nine miles) north of the city of Goma in North Kivu province, is believed to have been an attempted kidnapping, according to officials at the nearby Virunga National Park.

A soldier in front of Mount Nyiragongo, DR Congo - archive

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An Italian military police officer travelling with Mr Attanasio and a Congolese driver were also killed.

The FDLR said the shooting happened in an area where both DR Congo and Rwanda had a military presence – so any investigation should take that into account.

The group was established by ethnic Hutus accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people – largely from the Tutsi minority – were killed.

They fled to DR Congo where their presence has been a key factor behind more than two decades of conflict in the region.

But in that time many other militias have also established themselves in eastern DR Congo, including local ones and others from Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999. It is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 17,000 personnel.

Why was he visiting?

Mr Attanasio, who had represented Italy in the DR Congo since 2017, was on a field trip with the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

He was going to see a school feeding programme in Rutshuru, the WFP said.

map of Virunga

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His friend, Italian volcanologist Dario Tedesco, told Reuters news agency the pair had also planned to climb a nearby volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, in Virunga National Park, later on Monday.

Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.

“He was able to talk to everyone… adapting himself to each of us, letting us feel we were important,” Mr Tedesco said in tribute to his friend, adding that they had dined together on Sunday.

“He believed in what he was doing and this shouldn’t have been his final journey.”

An Italian military plane has taken off from Goma for Rome with the bodies of the ambassador and his bodyguard.

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