Italy begins repatriation of ambassador and bodyguard killed in Congo

By Fiston Mahamba and Hereward Holland
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Reuters) - An Italian military plane arrived in eastern Congo on Tuesday to bring home the bodies of its ambassador and bodyguard, who were shot dead in an ambush by a United Nations convoy while militia were accused of them to kill denied any involvement.
Ambassador Luca Attanasio, 43, and his bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, were killed on Monday while traveling in a World Food Program convoy to a school feeding project. WFP driver Mustapha Milambo was also killed.
In the eastern city of Goma, a United States delivery truck transported the bodies of Attanasio and Iacovacci to the airport where the Italian cargo plane landed in the early afternoon. The bodies were to be flown to Rome.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo's interior ministry accused a Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) on Monday, but did not provide evidence.
The FDLR was founded by senior Rwandan officers and militiamen who the United Nations and others said helped orchestrate the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It is one of around 120 armed groups in eastern Congo.
"The FDLR declares that they are in no way involved in the attack," the rebel group said in a statement, condemning what it termed a "cowardly assassination".
The Congo Presidency announced Tuesday that President Felix Tshisekedi had sent his best diplomatic adviser to Goma to assist in an investigation by local authorities.
A Congolese envoy in Rome was due to present a personal letter from Tshisekedi to Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday, the Congolese presidency said.
"FINAL JOURNEY"
In an interview, Dario Tedesco, an Italian volcanologist from Goma, paid tribute to his friend Attanasio.
"He was able to talk to all of us in a completely different way because he adapted to each of us and made us feel important," said Tedesco. "He believed in what he was doing and this shouldn't have been his last trip."
The FDLR has been blamed for previous kidnappings in the area, including two British tourists in May 2018. The tourists were detained for several days before being released.
The ambush on Monday was carried out by six armed men who stopped the two-car convoy on the road north of Goma, the presidency said.
The attackers led the seven passengers away from the cars after killing one of the drivers.
Army and park guards followed the group and a fire fight broke out.
"The kidnappers fired at close range at the bodyguard, who died on the spot, and at the ambassador, wounding his stomach. The ambassador died of his wounds an hour later at the United Nations Peacekeeping Hospital in Goma," the presidency said.
(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba and Hereward Holland; writing by Hereward Holland; editing by Nellie Peyton, Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood)

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