Italy mourns ambassador and bodyguard killed in Congo

Italians mourned the death of Luca Attanasio, Italian Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Tuesday. who was killed in an ambush with his bodyguard and their driver during a humanitarian convoy with the World Food Program.

National media were filled with tributes to Mr Attanasio, 43, who has been hailed as the young and humanitarian face of Italian diplomacy, and with detailed accounts of his last hours before his death on Monday.

Mr Attanasio’s murder has struck a deep nerve in Italy, which has been strained over the past year due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic and a political crisis that has created weeks of unrest and of uncertainty. Many Italians also remain sensitive to the plight of their nationals abroad following the brutal murder of a graduate student, Jules Regeni, in Egypt in 2016.

Photos of Mr. Attanasio smiling and surrounded by Congolese children or posing with his wife and three little daughters have made the headlines of Italian dailies and their websites.

“Luca and Vittorio. The best of Italy, ”reads the headline of the Turin-based daily La Stampa, referring to Vittorio Iacovacci, the 30-year-old Italian military policeman who died with the Congolese ambassador and his driver, Mustapha Milambo of the World Food Program.

“His Africa,” read the front page of the left-wing daily Il Manifesto, showing a selfie taken by the ambassador, right thumb up, with two Congolese children.

“Yesterday, I could not express to his family the deep sadness of the whole Foreign Ministry and our sincere closeness,” wrote Elisabetta Belloni, secretary general of the ministry, in an editorial in the daily Corriere della Sera. “Because silence and emotion prevailed.”

“Luca was a generous person who wanted to do good,” Ms. Belloni said. “He believed that Italy – along with the European Union and the United Nations – could play an important role in promoting development and peace. He devoted himself to this goal with humility, but also with absolute commitment and preparation.

Pope Francis on Tuesday expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, the diplomatic corps and the military police “for the disappearance of these servants of peace and law”.

Rome prosecutors have opened an investigation into the accident, sending a team of investigators to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, near where the killings took place. The president and top officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo pledged to get to the bottom of the tragedy, which took place in an area near the border with Rwanda and known for its violence.

Dozens of armed groups are participating in kidnappings and violent actions in the region, with rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the largest foreign armed group operating in Congo. The rebel group on Tuesday denied any involvement in the attack, saying their men were far from the area.

On Tuesday, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and his wife met Mr. Attanasio’s wife, Zakia Seddiki, who is president of a non-governmental organization in the Congo that helps women and children in need.

In a statement read on national television, Mr. Tshisekedi said the government had sent a team of investigators to Goma “to shed light on these heinous crimes as quickly as possible”.

It is not known whether Mr Attanasio and his bodyguard were shot dead in a kidnapping attempt that went wrong, or whether he was murdered during an exchange of gunfire between the group. armed forces, park guards and a nearby Congolese army unit.

Mr Attanasio was traveling to Rutshuru in the north to visit a World Food Program project to feed schoolchildren, partly funded by the Italian government, in a two-car convoy. The World Food Program said the route they had taken had already been cleared for travel without a security escort.

The day before the attack, Mr. Attanasio and Mr. Iacovacci had dinner with a small group of Italian expatriates in Goma.

“He said he admired our work on the front lines and was proud of us here,” said Miriam Ruscio, Italian program manager for the AVSI aid group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who attended the dinner. , about Mr. Attanasio.

“It’s devastating to know he’s gone,” Ms. Ruscio said.

In Mr Attanasio’s hometown of Limbiate near Milan, Mayor Antonio Romeo said he would give the name of the city’s future cultural center to the Ambassador.

“He was proud of his hometown in the province and loved the simple things,” said Romeo. “He will be sorely missed.”

A military plane will bring the bodies of the two Italians to Rome, where a medical team will perform an autopsy to try to determine the cause of their death.

“We are devastated, it is an immeasurable loss,” said Salvatore Attanasio, the father of the ambassador, in a video interview published by the Italian news agency Ansa. “These are unfair things that should never happen.”

Steve Wembi contributed reporting from Kinshasa.

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