Six Congolese were sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday in Kinshasa for the assassination in 2021 of the Italian ambassador to the DRC, following a trial before military justice which, however, failed to lift all the gray areas on this case.
The death penalty had been requested by the public prosecutor but was not retained by the military tribunal of the Kinshasa-Gombe garrison, which rendered its decision in open court.
The defense, which had pleaded acquittal, immediately announced to AFP that it was going to appeal. Another trial should therefore take place before a military court.
The verdict was read in the presence of five defendants - André Murwanashaka Mushahara, Issa Seba Nyani, Antoine Bahati Kiboko, Amidu Sembinja Babu alias Samuel Ombeni and Prince Marco Shimiyimana - the sixth being on the run.
They had been on trial since October 12, at the rate of one hearing per week, inside the military prison of Ndolo, where they had been brought after their arrest in January 2022 in the east of the country.
Presented as members of a gang of common criminals, highway robbers and kidnappers, they were found guilty of the murder of the Italian ambassador to the DRC, Luca Attanasio, of his Italian bodyguard, the rifleman Vittorio Iacovacci , and a Congolese World Food Program (WFP) driver, Mustapha Milambo, on February 22, 2021.
That day, a convoy of two WFP vehicles, leaving from Goma, capital of North Kivu, fell into an ambush about twenty kilometers from the city, on the outskirts of the Virunga national park.
Renowned for its gorillas, the park is also known to be a haven for armed groups, in this region plagued by violence for nearly 30 years.
According to the account given in court, the convoy was cut in two. The vehicle in which the ambassador is is immobilized, the assailants shoot at the driver, whose body is abandoned on the side of the road. The other occupants of the vehicle are taken hostage and taken to the bush.
Alerted, the park rangers set off in pursuit, violent exchanges of fire ensue. The ambassador's bodyguard was killed instantly, the diplomat, seriously injured, died after being transported to a hospital in Goma.
That same evening, the DRC authorities accused a group of Rwandan Hutu rebels, the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda), of being responsible for this "terrorist" attack, which the rebels had denied.
But already, other sources evoked rather an attempted kidnapping, with demand for ransom in the key, which would have turned out badly.
This version prevailed when, nearly a year later, the Congolese police announced the arrest of criminals, including those who attacked the ambassador's convoy.
The reports drawn up during the police interrogations are unequivocal. But during the trial, the defendants denied everything and claimed that their confessions had been extracted under torture.
They repeated that they had nothing to do with the death of the ambassador and the trial did not bring any new elements to the circumstances, the perpetrators and possible sponsors of the ambush.
No witness or expert was also called to the bar, which the defense deplored, who would have liked to hear the park rangers or a survivor of this tragedy, another WFP employee.
In her pleadings, she considered that the prosecution had proven "neither the criminal participation (association of criminals), nor the illegal possession of weapons and munitions of war".
A civil party to the trial, the Republic of Italy, hostile to the death penalty, had for its part requested that the accused be "sentenced to a penalty of deprivation of liberty".
The death penalty is still often requested and imposed in the DRC in national security cases, but it has not been applied for 20 years and is systematically commuted to life imprisonment.
The tribunal also awarded the Republic of Italy the equivalent in Congolese francs of two million dollars in damages.
04/07/2023 15:02:13 - Kinshasa (AFP) - © 2023 AFP