Michel in ‘shock’ after Italy’s DR Congo ambassador is killed in attack

European Council President Charles Michel talks to the Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi at the European Council headquarters in Brussels on 18 February 2021. [EPA-EFE/Francisco Seco / POOL]

European Council President Charles Michel expressed his “shock” following the death of Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday (22 February) in what is believed to have been an attempted kidnapping attack.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died in hospital on Monday after the United Nations convoy in which he was travelling came under fire near Goma in the northeast of the country, according to the foreign ministry in Kinshasa.

The convoy belonged to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and was travelling on a road that is a frequent site of attacks by bandits and armed militia groups. The area in and around North and South Kivu, including Goma, is close to the Virunga national park which borders Rwanda and Uganda.

Michel tweeted that he was “shocked” by the attack, adding that “security and peace must be ensured: #UE will remain alongside the #RDC and its people.”

“It is with deep sorrow that the foreign ministry confirms the death today in Goma of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, and of a policeman from the carabinieri,” the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The ambassador and the soldier were travelling in a car in a convoy of Monusco, the United Nations Organisation stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” it said.

Virunga, which sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, attracts thousands of tourists each year.

Monday’s attack was in the same village where two British tourists were briefly kidnapped in 2018, leading the park to close to tourists for nine months.

The attack is unlikely to be related to the political situation in Kinshasa, where President Félix Tshisekedi has steadily consolidated his power over the past year, having been forced to spend the previous two years since his election in a de facto power-sharing arrangement with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

Last month, the National Assembly voted to remove Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, allowing Tshisekedi to appoint an ally as prime minister and pack the government with supporters.

The presence of a plethora of active militia groups in the Kivus has long been a source of frustration for DRC’s neighbours in the Great Lakes region who have repeated urged Tshisekedi and Kabila to take decisive action against militia groups. However, successive governments and the DRC’s security apparatus appear to have been powerless to stop them.

Among them are Rwandan rebel Hutu groups, including the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda and the Congrès National de la Résistance pour la Démocratie who have increased their movements between the provinces in recent years. So, too, have Tutsi-led rebel groups in North and South Kivu.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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