The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo has been killed in an attack on a UN convoy in the east of the country, an area that is home to several rebel groups. 

Luca Attanasio, 43, the Italian ambassador, Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, an Italian military policeman, and a World Food Programme driver were killed during an ambush on the way to the regional capital of Goma, according to the Italian government and the WFP.

“The delegation was travelling from Goma to visit a WFP school-feeding programme in Rutshuru when the incident took place,” the UN organisation said in a statement, adding that other passengers travelling with the delegation had sustained injuries. 

Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi expressed “deep condolences for the tragic deaths”. It was not immediately clear who was behind the ambush, with Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, stressing that  “the circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened”. 

Marie Tumba Nzeza, the foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, promised “that my country’s government will do everything to discover who is behind this despicable murder”.

A senior commander of the UN peacekeeping mission described the attack, in a region that has suffered from years of rebel violence, as “very serious”.

The ambush took place near Virunga National Park, near Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. The governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, told Reuters that the assailants had halted the convoy, killed the driver, and were taking the others into the bush when park rangers opened fire. The attackers had then killed the other two, Nzanzu said, according to the news agency. 

David McLachlan-Karr, representative of the UN secretary-general to the Democratic Republic of Congo, said two of the victims had died during the attack. Attanasio received emergency care at a hospital run by Monusco, the UN mission in Goma, “where he succumbed to his injuries”. Photographs in local media showed Attanasio, without body armour, lying in the arms of a man on the back of a jeep. 

Onesphore Sematumba, a Congo analyst with International Crisis Group, said the killings were “part of a long series of murders” in the area, adding that the powers in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, should be “more concerned by this situation”. Six park rangers were killed in an ambush last month. 

The head of police of North Kivu province, General Aba Van Ang, was quoted by local media as saying that Attanasio had not informed either the police or the army of his plans.

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