The DR Congo government has said that Italian Ambassador to Kinshasa, Luca Attanasio, was killed by Rwandan Hutu rebels.
The Italian envoy was killed on Monday in an ambush near Goma, in the province of North Kivu.
A statement from the Congolese Ministry of Interior and Security said it suspected “elements” of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an exiled Hutu militia, ambushed a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy in Goma, killing the diplomat and two other people.
The WFP had said the envoy, the UN agency driver and another Italian embassy official were killed in the attack.
“The delegation was travelling from Goma to visit a WFP school feeding programme in Rutshuru when the incident took place,” the WFP said.
“WFP will work with national authorities to determine the details behind the attack, which occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” added the UN agency.
The FDLR is one of the active Rwandan rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame’s government.
The Rwandan Hutu rebels Tuesday denied allegations they were behind the killing of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and instead accused the armies of the DRC and Rwanda.
The FDLR denied “being involved in the attack” and called on Kinshasa and U.N. peacekeeping force MONUSCO to “shed light” on the killings “instead of resorting to hasty accusations.”
Monday’s attack occurred in thickly forested, mountainous terrain north of the North Kivu capital of Goma, in Nyiaragongo Territory – one of the most dangerous parts of the country.
The FDLR is one of a number of armed groups operating there. Some of the group’s founders were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide during which the Hutu majority slaughtered 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates.
The group is opposed to the current Rwandan government but has not launched any large-scale offensive in Rwanda since 2001.
Kigali and Kinshasa, at odds for a long time, have started a diplomatic and security rapprochement that not everyone in the region welcomes.
On 10 May 2019, the Rwandan Chief of Staff Patrick Nyamvumba travelled to Kinshasa. The commander of the military forces (who has since become Minister of Internal Security) spoke of the importance for the two neighbours of “securing each other and improving cooperation between their armies”.
Although little was said at the time, the visit marked a new stage. “Since then, there has been a mechanism called the Joint Intelligence Team [ECR] which brings together civilian and military data collected by the two countries to provide them to units of the Armed Forces of the DR Congo [FARDC], which specialise in operations against rebel groups,” explained a senior Congolese officer.
Two of the main leaders of hostile armed groups in Kigali, were killed in FARDC raids, with the help of Rwandan intelligence: Sylvestre Mudacumura in September 2019, Juvénal Musabimana, alias Jean-Michel Africa, in November.
For its part, the Rwandan army denied rumours it was intervening on the ground alongside Congolese forces. Tshisekedi, meanwhile insists: it is only a matter of exchanging information.
Kigali has been promoting contacts between the Congolese government and the M23. “A roadmap was signed by the two parties in October 2019 for the repatriation of the latter, but its implementation is lagging behind,” according to a source within the National Monitoring Mechanism of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement.
Meanwhile, the Kivu Security Tracker, a project set up by Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Group, based at New York University, has confirmed on several occasions over the past months that Rwandan soldiers were working alongside FARDC forces as they carried out operations.
The most recent incident alert, dated April 24, 2020 concerns a FARDC-led offensive against a faction of FDLR forces in Rutshuru territory (North Kivu) in which, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, Rwandan soldiers allegedly took part.
The attack on the convoy happened in an area frequently attacked by bandits.
Officials in the DRC said they have launched investigations to identify the attackers and their motive.
But the statement from the Interior Ministry said: “The security services and the provincial authorities were unable to ensure special security measures to the convoy, neither to help, because of lacking of information on their presence in this part of the country which is considered unstable and plagued by the activism of certain national and foreign rebel armed groups.”
Mr Attanasio, 43, a former journalist, was married and had three children.
He was head of Italy’s mission in Kinshasa from 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.
Separately, several DR Congo ministers sent messages of condolence to the Italian government. President Félix Tshisekedi called on the authorities to investigate the incident.
“”I firmly condemn these heinous acts … I instruct the competent services to shed light on this subject so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice,” he said.
Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzenza promised to use all means to find those behind the attack
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