Italy repatriates victims of Congo ambush 'tragedy'

The body of Italy's envoy to Democratic Republic of Congo and his bodyguard were being returned home on Tuesday (February 23) to a country in mourning.

Flags at half mast in Rome as a mark of respect following the killings of Ambassador Luca Attanasio, military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci and Congolese driver Mustapha Milambo - killed in an ambush in Congo's eastern North Kivu province.

Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi has dispatched an envoy with a personal letter to Italy's President and sent his top diplomatic advisor to assist local investigations in North Kivu.

But in the regional capital Goma, Attanasio's friend Dario Tedesco believes it's important to remember this is not just an international tragedy, but a family one.

"I don't cry much really, I don't cry at all even. Yesterday, I felt so poor, I lost someone, we lost someone. And most of all I have to be honest, I was thinking of his wife and three daughters, and that's a tragedy. You know, it's a tragedy for us.

Tedesco, a volcanologist in the Central African country, had dinner with Attanasio on Sunday (February 21) night.

The next day his friend, Iacaovacci and Milambo were killed. Milambo leaves behind four children according to a Congolese rights activist.

The victims were part of a two-vehicle United Nations convoy heading to visit a school feeding program in a town north of Goma.

According to Congo's presidency, the attackers stopped the convoy and killed Milambo.

They were leading passengers away when army and park rangers engaged them in a firefight.

The attacker shot Iacovacci dead; Attanasio was wounded in the abdomen.

He died several hours later in a U.N. peacekeeping hospital.

Congo's interior ministry has blamed a Hutu militia called the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda - one of 120 armed groups operating in eastern Congo.

But on Tuesday it denied any involvement and condemned the attack as a "cowardly assassination".