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Rome holds funeral for Italian ambassador killed in DR Congo

Luca Attanasio, 43, died after being shot on Monday after unidentified assailants ambushed a two-vehicle convoy from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) in which he was travelling.

This photo taken and handout on 23 February 2021 by the Italian Foreign Ministry shows Carabinieri police officers carrying one of the flag-draped coffins of slain Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, upon the arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport of an Italian Air Force plane flying from Goma in the DRC. Picture: AFP

ROME, Italy - Italy paid its last respects to its ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, who was killed with his bodyguard and driver during an ambush on a UN convoy.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died after being shot on Monday after unidentified assailants ambushed a two-vehicle convoy from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) in which he was travelling.

The group was en route to a school programme in the eastern province of North Kivu, near the Rwanda border.

Attanasio's bodyguard from Italy's Carabinieri police forces, Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, was also killed, along with a Congolese WFP driver, Mustapha Milambo, 56.

Accompanied by Chopin's funeral march, the coffins of the two Italians, who were repatriated on Tuesday, were carried by carabinieri into Rome's Saint Mary of the Angels church for a state funeral.

Along with the families of Attanasio and Iacovacci, Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and several government ministers attended the ceremony presided over by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.

"Today we feel the anguish of three families, two nations and the entire family of nations. An anguish because the peace so longed for is not present... because the promises of justice have been betrayed", said De Donatis in his homily.

"Luca, Vittorio and Mustapha have been torn from this world by the clutches of a stupid and ferocious violence... that only brings pain," he added.

RECONSTRUCTING PEACE

Passionate about Africa, Attanasio was the first Italian ambassador to be killed in the line of duty.

The European Union's ambassador to the DRC, Jean-Marc Chataigner, told Rai television that Attanasio liked to go "into the field".

"He had a special attachment to the east of the country, an area forgotten by the international community," Chataigner said. "I think he also wanted to make his contribution to the reconstruction of peace."

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio asked the UN on Wednesday to open an investigation, demanding "clear answers" to questions over the attack, whose perpetrators are still unknown.

According to Congolese and Italian authorities, the convoy was ambushed three kilometres (two miles) from its destination, the town of Kiwanja, in the territory of Rutshuru, north of Goma.

After shooting Milambo, six assailants with AK-47s assault weapons forced the occupants of the two vehicles to follow them into the Virunga National Park, a wildlife reserve.

When nearby rangers and Congolese soldiers alerted by the gunfire approached the assailants, Attanasio and Iacovacci were shot.

DRC authorities accused the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who have denied any involvement and instead blame members of the Rwandan and Congolese armies.

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