Workers load the bodies of slain Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and his security guard, Vittorio Iacovacci, into a military aeroplane at Goma International Airport in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, February 23 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HEREWARD HOLLAND
Workers load the bodies of slain Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and his security guard, Vittorio Iacovacci, into a military aeroplane at Goma International Airport in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, February 23 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HEREWARD HOLLAND

Goma  —  An armed group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), accused by the government of carrying out an ambush on a UN convoy in which Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and two other people were killed, has denied involvement in the attack.

DRC's interior ministry on Monday blamed a Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which is active near where Attanasio and his bodyguard, Vittorio Iacovacci, were shot.

World Food Programme (WFP) driver Mustapha Milambo was also killed, local officials said.

The FDLR was founded by senior Rwandan officers and militiamen who the UN and others have said helped orchestrate the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. It is one of about 120 armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

“The FDLR declare that they are in no way involved in the attack,” the rebel group said in a statement on Tuesday, condemning what it called a “cowardly assassination”.  Instead, they accused the armies of the DRC and Rwanda of being behind the attack. 

The FDLR kidnapped two British tourists in the same village in May 2018 and held them for several days before freeing them. The surrounding Virunga National Park, which lies along DRC's borders with Rwanda and Uganda and is home to more than half the world's mountain gorillas, then closed for nine months.

Monday's ambush was carried out by six armed men, who stopped the two-car convoy on the road north from North Kivu's provincial capital Goma, the DRC's presidency said.

The attackers lead the seven passengers away from the cars after killing one of the drivers. Army and park rangers tracked the group and a firefight ensued.

“The kidnappers fired point-blank shots at the bodyguard who died on the spot and at the ambassador, wounding him in the abdomen. The ambassador died of his wounds an hour later at the UN peacekeeping hospital in Goma,” the presidency said, adding that it was sending a team to investigate.

Pierre Boisselet from the Kivu Security Tracker, a research initiative that maps unrest in the region, said the FDLR could not be ruled out.

"(But) we haven't seen, and the government hasn't shown so far, evidence proving the FDLR's responsibility at this stage,” Boisselet said.

Reuters 

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