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Belgium returns remains of Congolese leader Lumumba to family in landmark ceremony
Belgian authorities handed over the remains of murdered Congolese hero Patrice Lumumba to his family in a symbolic ceremony at Egmont Palace in Brussels on Monday, reports RTBF.
Prime minister Alexander De Croo returned the relic, a gold-capped tooth, to his three children. They had won a court case in 2020 to have the remains returned after the discovery of the macabre memento.
Contained in a light blue case, it was placed in a casket that will be taken to the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) before being repatriated.
The ceremony took place in the presence of Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, replacing DRC president Félix Tshisekedi, who was unable to travel due to conflict in the east of the country.
Although the return of a tooth might not appear significant, Lumumba’s son Roland said that it would finally give the family the opportunity to “finish their mourning”.
Prime minister De Croo acknowledged Belgium’s “moral responsibility” for Lumumba’s murder as well as “painful and unpleasant truths” about its colonial past. "We have to if we want to turn the page and start a new chapter in our history".
Lumumba hero of Congolese independence
A leading figure in the anti-colonial struggle, Patrice Emery Lumumba was the first prime minister of independent Congo. He was assassinated by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in Katanga in January 1961 under mysterious circumstances.
After being shot dead, his body was dismembered and dissolved in acid. Belgian police commissioner Gerard Soete later confessed to committing the horrific act and keeping a couple of teeth as mementoes. One of these was seized by courts in 2016 from Soete’s daughter.
For the DRC, the relic is symbolic of the country's aspirations for independence before it became caught up in corruption, dictatorship and the loss of its valuable mineral resources.
With the ceremony, the Belgian government hopes to further draw a draw a line under this particularly dark chapter in its colonial past and help improve relations between Belgium and the DRC.
While there has never been any official responsibility taken for the assassination, a Belgian parliamentary enquiry report in 2001 shed light on a number of elements. These included an agreement by the CIA, the Belgian government and Congolese rebel leaders to remove Lumumba from power.
For Belgians and Americans, Patrice Lumumba was a radical communist who hampered their economic and geostrategic interests. For leaders in Congo, the new prime minister thwarted their plans for the rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai.
Photo: (c) Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga