The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was among three people killed when their humanitarian convoy was fired upon while travelling in a volatile part of the country, officials said.
Luca Attanasio died of his injuries after the convoy of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) was ambushed in Virunga National Park near the eastern city of Goma in North Kivu province, the province’s governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita told dpa.
Attanasio, 43, was shot in the stomach and later died of his injuries in a UN hospital in Goma, Kasivita said.
The ambassador’s bodyguard and a driver were also killed, he said.
The WFP confirmed the deaths of three people, adding that a number of other passengers sustained injuries. The Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed the death of the ambassador and a security officer.
The unidentified attackers were repelled by park rangers patrolling the area, according to the governor.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio travelled back to Italy from a meeting in Brussels because of the incident, according to Italian news agency Ansa.
Congolese police said they had not been informed about the ambassador's visit to the volatile national park.
National police general Abba Van said he was "surprised" that Attanasio had travelled to the violence-prone area without a police convoy.
The delegation had been on travelling from Goma on a field trip to a WFP school programme in Rutshuru, which is located close to the park.
Previously cleared road
WFP will work with national authorities to determine the details behind the attack, which occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts, the organization said in a statement.
Attacks on civilians, aid organizations and officials are common in volatile eastern Congo, where more than 100 rebel groups are active, many of them fighting over the country's precious natural resources.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a statement he “received with dismay the news of the cowardly attack.”
"I promise the Italian government that the government of my country will do everything to find out who is behind this vile murder,” said Congo's Foreign Minister Ntumba Nzenza.
"Shocked by the attack of a WFP convoy in DRC and by the lives lost," European Council President Charles Michel tweeted, extending his thoughts to the families of others killed in the attack as well.
"Security and peace must be assured. The EU will stand by the side of the DRC and its population," he said.
Attanasio had been the head of Italy's foreign mission in Kinshasa since September 2017. Before that, he had served Italy in the West African state of Nigeria.