GOMA, 23 February 2021 – Rwandan Hutu rebels have denied accusations that they were behind the killing Monday of Italy’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Luca Attanasio.

The bodyguard of the Italian envoy, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a Congolese driver were also killed in the attack which occurred north of the North Kivu capital of Goma on National Highway 2.

Slain Italian Envoy Luca Attanasio - Photo BBC

Slain Italian Envoy Luca Attanasio – Photo BBC

Luca Attanasio with DR Congolese Kids - Photo The Times

Luca Attanasio with DR Congolese Kids – Photo The Times

The road runs through the equatorial forest, winding up and down mountainous terrain situated close to DR Congo’s border with Rwanda.

We are “in no way involved in the attack,” the rebel group said in a statement on Tuesday, cited by the French News Agency (AFP).

The two-vehicle convoy was ambushed three kilometres (1.8 miles) from their destination by six assailants, armed with five AK-47 assault rifles and a machete.

UN Peacekeepers in DR Congo - Photo Philadelphia Inquirer

Peacekeepers  in DR Congo – Photo Philadelphia Inquirer

The assailants reportedly fired warning shots in the air to force the convoy to come to a halt.

They then forced passengers out of the cars, ordering the hostages to follow them into the depths of the (Virunga) park.

Park rangers and army troops nearby heard the noise and pursued the attackers.

“Five hundred metres (from the site of the ambush), the kidnappers fired point blank at the bodyguard, who died on the spot, and at the ambassador, hitting him in the abdomen,” the statement from the Congolese presidency read in part.

On Tuesday, the Rwandan Hutu rebel group – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – issued a statement, blaming soldiers of DR Congo and Rwanda for what the group called a “cowardly assassination”.

Coffins of Envoy Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag at Goma Airport - Photo Justin Kabumba, AP

Coffins of Attanasio and Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag at Goma Airport – Photo Justin Kabumba, AP

UN Van Conveys Remains of Envoy to Plane - Photo US News & World Report

Remains Arrive Goma Airport – Photo US News & World Report

Barely hours after the attack, DR Congo’s interior ministry blamed “members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)” for the ambush and abduction gone wrong.

“The responsibility for this despicable killing is to be found in the ranks of these two armies and their sponsors who have forged an unnatural alliance to perpetuate the pillaging of eastern DRC,” the statemet read in part.

The FDLR said the ambassador’s convoy was attacked near the Rwandan border, “not far from a position of the FARDC”.

Rebels Deny Involvement in Killing of Italian Envoy - Photo BBC

Rebels Deny Involvement in Killing of Italian Envoy – Photo BBC

The group called on Congolese authorities in Kinshasa and officials of the United Nations peacekeeping force to DR Congo (MONUSCO) to “shed light” on the killings “instead of resorting to hasty accusations”.

The United Nations, the DR Congo and Italian governments on Monday opened a probe into the killings.

Luca Attanasio - Photo News Pulse Online

Luca Attanasio – Photo News Pulse Online

DR Congo’s interior ministry said in a statement on Monday that the security services and provincial authorities had not been given advance warning of the trip.

“(They) were unable to provide special security for the convoy or come to its aid because of a lack of information about their presence in this part of the country,” the statement said.

In its statement on Monday, the WFP explained that the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts”.

The Rwandan Hutu rebel group, which was founded by the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, is one of at least 120 armed groups that have been operating in eastern Dr Congo.

Virunga National Park - Source Google Maps

Virunga National Park – Google Maps

Virunga Park Source Interntional Business Times

Virunga Park – Source: International Business Times

The group has reportedly been operating in the eastern part of DR Congo since more than 25 years amd was blamed in May 2018 for the kidnapping of two British tourists in the same village.

The two were held for several days before being freed.

Following the 2018 against the two British tourists, the Virunga National Park – where those attacks occurred – was closed for nine months.

Home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas, the park lies along the common borders of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

On Tuesday, the mortal remains of Attanasio and Iacovacci’s were transferred to the airport in the eastern city of Goma from where they were to be flown to Rome.

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