The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and an Italian military police officer have been killed while travelling in the country in a UN convoy.
The ambush on the World Food Programme (WFP) convoy that killed ambassador Luca Attanasio and the officer occurred near Goma, the African nation’s eastern regional capital in the territory of Nyiragongo, in North Kivu. Their Congolese driver was also killed in the attack.
The WFP said it was seeking information from local authorities, as the ambush occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.
Mambo Kaway, president of a local civil society group, said: “There were five people aboard the vehicle, including the Italian ambassador. The driver died after being shot with several bullets, and others were wounded.
“The situation is very tense.”
The wounded were taken to a nearby UN hospital.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell informed the bloc’s foreign ministers of the incident at a meeting he is chairing in Brussels and presented his condolences to Italy and the United Nations.
“The news (is) extremely worrying, and we are following the situation closely with the EU delegation in Congo,” said EU Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.
The country’s east is home to many rebel groups all vying for control of the mineral-rich land.
More than 2,000 civilians were killed last year in eastern Congo in violence by armed groups whose brutal attacks have also displaced millions in what the UN calls one of the worst humanitarian crises.
There are 5.2 million people displaced in the Central African nation, according to the United Nations Children’s Agency, which said in a report on Friday that this represents more displaced than in any other country except Syria. In the past year alone, 50% have been displaced, it said.
The resource-rich nation the size of Western Europe suffered through one of the most brutal colonial reigns ever known before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship. Back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighbouring countries. And many rebel groups have come and gone during the UN mission’s years of operation, at times invading the eastern regional capital, Goma, where the ambassador was killed.
In January 2019, Congo experienced its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 following the election of President Felix Tshisekedi.
He succeeded strongman Joseph Kabila in a disputed election marked by allegations of large-scale fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Mr Kabila to install Mr Tshisekedi over an opposition candidate who, according to leaked electoral data, was the real winner.
The UN peacekeeping mission has been working to draw down its 15,000-troop presence and transfer its security work to Congolese authorities.