April 12, 2021

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Italy holds state funeral for ambassador, bodyguard killed in DRC

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The victims were kidnapped and fatally shot while travelling in a UN World Food Programme convoy.

Italy has held a state funeral for its ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and his bodyguard killed in an ambush that a cardinal said should prompt everyone to “hear the cry” of a people devastated by violence.

Luca Attanasio, 43, and Vittorio Lacovacci, 30, were shot dead on Monday after being kidnapped while travelling in a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) convoy to visit a school feeding project. Mustapha Milambo, a WFP driver who was also killed in the attack, was buried in the DRC on Tuesday.

The funeral on Thursday, attended by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and other ministers, was held in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, a church in the capital Rome where services for national leaders and cultural figures are held.

The caskets, draped in the Italian flag, were given a military salute as they were removed from hearses. A soldier commanded “Honour to the fallen” and a military band played a sombre march as they were carried into the church.

“These brothers decided to commit themselves to helping others even if it meant sacrificing their lives,” Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said in his funeral homily.

De Donatis, who is Pope Francis’s vicar for Rome diocese, said the deaths should prompt everyone to “hear the cry of the people of Congo, cruelly devastated by violence as it sees its sons and daughters die every day”.

Attanasio leaves behind a wife and three children and Lacovacci was engaged.

A judicial source in Rome said preliminary autopsy results showed that both were hit twice by crossfire in an apparent kidnapping attempt, not executed.

According to the DRC’s presidency, the two-car convoy had been stopped on the road north from the eastern city of Goma by six armed men, who killed Milambo and led the six others away.

Army and park rangers tracked the group and a firefight ensued, during which the two Italians were shot.

DRC’s interior ministry has blamed a Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebel group called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) for the attack. The FDLR, one of about 120 armed groups operating in eastern Congo, denied responsibility for what it called a “cowardly assassination”.

Italian Carabinieri police investigators have flown to the DRC to liaise with police there. When they return, Italian prosecutors are expected to open a full investigation.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has said he wants to end decades of unrest in the country’s east, which is rich in rare metals used in mobile phones and batteries, but killings in the region have more than doubled in the last year, according to the UN.

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