WFP: Security protocols, leaks a focus of Congo probe

World

United Nations peacekeepers recover bodies from an area near the site where a U.N. convoy was attacked in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Luca Attanasio, Italian ambassador to the Congo, an Italian Carabineri bodyguard and a Congolese driver were killed in the area that is home to myriad rebel groups, according to the Foreign Ministry and local people. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

ROME (AP) — A U.N. investigation into the attack on a humanitarian convoy in Congo that killed the Italian ambassador, his bodyguard and driver will look into whether the long-planned mission’s security protocols were followed and whether information might have leaked to the unknown gunmen involved in the ambush.

The deputy communications director of the World Food Program, Greg Barrow, told an online briefing Friday that the Feb. 22 mission to bring Ambassador Luca Attanasio to a WFP school feeding program in eastern Congo had been in the works since 2020.

Advance planning and security meetings as well as security briefings took place up to the moment the seven-member team took off from Goma, in Congo’s east, in a two-car convoy bound for the program in Rutshuru, he said.

“Very careful planning went on ahead of this visit,” he said.

Attanasio, his security escort, Carabiniere paramilitary officer Vittorio Iacovacci, and the WFP’s Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo were killed Monday when an armed group stopped them and ordered them out of their cars. Milambo was killed instantly, and Attanasio and Iacovacci were fatally shot in an ensuing shootout after a nearby ranger patrol arrived on the scene.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Several armed groups are active in the region.

Italy has formally asked the United Nations for an inquiry into what happened amid questions about whether the U.N. security arrangements were sufficient for the mission. The U.N. has said the road had been declared “green” by the U.N. and cleared for travel without security escorts or armored vehicles.

The WFP says it is cooperating in the Italian, Congolese and U.N. investigations.

Barrow said the U.N. probe would scrutinize the preparatory meetings leading up to the mission itself as well as whether security protocols were followed.

“The main focus of the fact-finding mission will be on what security protocols were undertaken, how they were followed and what steps were taken to minimize any sort of risk to any of those who were on this mission,” he said. “And that would include any access to any advance information or contemporary information about the trips.”

He said that while the attack had prompted an automatic security review, the WFP had no plans to alter its humanitarian efforts in Congo. It wasn’t immediately clear why Attanasio was inspecting the food program since Italy wasn’t funding it.

One of the survivors of the ambush, WFP’s deputy country director Rocco Leone, said it was incumbent on the surviving four members of the mission to establish the truth of what transpired.

“I am sure that I speak for everyone in saying that I look forward to the facts behind this tragic incident being soon established, and so that the perpetrators of this heinous attack can be brought to justice,” Leone said in a statement read by Barrow. “It is important that humanitarian operations can continue unhampered to save and change the lives of the many needy people whom we are here to serve.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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