Italian Ambassador to DRC Killed

Pope Expresses Sympathy

Pope Francis Stands Against War
Popr Francis Praying © Vatican Media

The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed on Monday, February 22, 2021, in an attack Monday while traveling in a United Nations Convoy in the east of the country, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

Vatican News reported that the ambassador, Luca Attanasio, 43, alongside an Italian carabinieri police officer, Vittorio Iacovacci, and their Congolese driver, Moustapha Milambo, were ambushed as they were traveling from Goma, Congo’s eastern regional capital, to visit a World Food Program (WFP) school project in Rutshuru. All three of them died in the shooting attack while others in the convoy sustained injuries.

Pope Francis sent a telegram to Italian President Sergio Mattarella noting the “exemplary witness” of the Italian Ambassador, and the “expert and generous service” of the police officer both slain in an attack on Monday.

The WFP said that the attack occurred on a road that had been previously cleared for travel without security escorts. Rutshuru is just over two hours’ drive from Goma. The road out of the regional capital has been insecure, with several armed groups operating in the area despite the heavy presence of the UN peacekeeping mission in the region.

In the wake of the tragedy, Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan expressed his condolences in a statement. He described the Ambassador as “a good man”, “a competent diplomat,” and “an enterprising young man” who was killed, and together with him, a police officer and their driver. He added that “they are victims of uncontrollable and devastating violence.”

Archbishop Delpini recalled meeting the Ambassador in Milan in 2019 while preparing for a visit to the DRC. He also remembered that during his visit to the country, he heard good reports about the Ambassador, his wife, and the mission, especially concerning their commitment to works of solidarity. At the same time, he noted getting reports about the violence and insecurity in the country.

“This is another reason for my deepest and very deep personal sorrow at the death of people dedicated to their duty, who interpreted their diplomatic service as a form of solidarity between peoples, who showed their willingness to take on the desolating poverty of a country rich in resources…” Archbishop Delpini said.

In a similar manner, Fr. Robert Kasereka, the president of OPAM – an organization working for the promotion of literacy in the world – expressed his deepest condolences and closeness in prayer to the families of the three victims in a statement, adding that Monday’s tragic killings have “deeply wounded Italy and the Democratic Republic of Congo, uniting them in the same great pain.”

He noted, however, that the attack, unfortunately, adds to the long list of violence that has taken place in the region in the past 20 years. He recalled that only a few days ago in Malambo, North Kivu, another ten people were killed including a young woman who was disemboweled. He further pointed out that over 10 million men, women, and children have lost their lives to violence over the past two decades.

Explaining further, he highlighted that a lot of the violence is due to struggles over the mineral wealth of the region which is rich in diamonds, gold, and coltan, as well as the nutrient-rich soil conducive for the cultivation of cocoa and coffee. He added that since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the increase in refugees in the DRC, conflicts between the indigenous people and the refugees have increased, and currently, many of the mines are controlled by armed groups.

Fr. Ngongi, therefore, stressed the need for “an independent international investigation that can clarify the deep reasons of this tragedy in order to address them and to find a solution together.”

Separately, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a post on his official Twitter account on Monday, condemned the attack which led to the death of the Italian Ambassador, his bodyguard, and a WFP colleague. He also called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General posted on the UN website conveyed Mr. Guterres’ deepest condolences to the families of the deceased, as well as to the governments of Italy and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The tragic killings have also drawn reactions from other Italian authorities and Congolese authorities who have both expressed regret and sorrow over the attack and reaffirmed their closeness to the families of the deceased.

The Mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by violence and insecurity for years, resulting in massive displacement of people and widespread poverty and hunger, according to Vatican News. The country has also suffered further shocks with intermittent outbreaks of the Ebola virus currently complicated by ongoing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eastern DRC in particular has been particularly ravaged by constant clashes between armed groups vying for control of territory and natural resources. In the consequent conflicts, thousands of civilians have suffered the loss of lives and terrible damages to property.

Since 1999, the UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in the DRC working to restore stability in the country.