Rwanda’s Hutu rebels on Tuesday denied allegations that they were behind the assassination of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and instead accused the armies of the DRC and Rwanda.
Luca Attanasio died of his wounds on Monday after a convoy of the World Food Program (WFP) came under fire near the eastern city of Goma while on a field trip, according to a senior diplomatic source in Kinshasa and WFP.
The Italian government confirmed the death, saying an Italian police officer, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a driver it did not identify had also died.
The DRC Ministry of the Interior blamed the assassination of “members of the democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)”, a rebel group from Rwandan Hutu that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century. But the FDLR rejected the accusation in a statement received by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday.
It said the ambassador’s convoy was attacked near the Rwandan border, “not far from a position of the FARDC (DR Congo Armed Forces) and Rwandan soldiers.
“The responsibility for this heinous killing lies in the ranks of these two armies and their sponsors who have forged an unnatural alliance to sustain the looting of the eastern DRC,” it said.
The FDLR denied “involvement in the attack” and urged Kinshasa and the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO to “shed light” on the killings “instead of resorting to hasty accusations.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Rwandan authorities have not reported the presence of any ordinary Rwandan troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
An expert at Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a US monitor, told AFP: “The FDLR is close to the place where the attack took place. It is possible that the Rwandan rebels are responsible for this attack.”
Attanasio, 43, had represented Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, first as mission chief and then as ambassador from October 2019. Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed what he called a “cowardly attack.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement urging the DRC to quickly investigate a “heinous focus” on a UN mission. Lots of militias are pouring into the four eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them a legacy of war in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
Monday’s attack occurred in thick forest, mountainous terrain north of the northern Kivu capital of Goma, in the Nyiaragongo Territory – one of the most dangerous parts of the country.
FDLR is one of a number of armed groups working there. Some of the group’s founders were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide during which the Hutu majority slaughtered 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates.
The group opposes the current Rwandan government but has not launched a large-scale offensive in Rwanda since 2001.