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Over 60 years after getting Patrice Lumumba murdered, Belgium is returning the hero’s remains

24 May 2021, Rfi
Over 60 years after getting Patrice Lumumba murdered, Belgium is returning the hero’s remains

Last remains of Congolese independence hero Lumumba to return home: Sixty years after Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba was assassinated and dissolved in acid, former colonial power Belgium is to restore his last remains – a single tooth – to his family.

The handover ceremony will launch a period of official mourning, during which both Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo will look back on their troubled past and lay to rest a national hero.

Speaking during an interview in Brussels, François and Roland Lumumba explained how they had travelled to make arrangements and fix dates for the events in the Belgian capital to commemorate their father.

Belgium, which once controlled a vast tract of central Africa as the Belgian Congo, will finally hand back the tooth that is thought to be the last human remains of Patrice Lumumba.

Victim of Cold War

He was murdered on 17 January 1961 by separatists and Belgian mercenaries in the breakaway province of Katanga during the chaos that followed the territory's 1960 declaration of independence.

Perceived in Washington and Brussels as a potential friend of the Soviet Union, the young republic's first prime minister was seen as a victim of Cold War rivalries.

After he was shot his body was dissolved in acid, but Belgium has now recovered a tooth that was apparently kept as a souvenir by a Flemish police commissioner who took part in the disposal of the remains.

"For us, this is his remains, it means a lot to us," said Roland Lumumba, the third of the late premier's children after François and daughter Juliana, who last year wrote to Philippe, King of the Belgians, to ask for the tooth.

"As Africans we could not bring our grieving to an end without part of his remains among us. We have come to the end of a legal dispute that has lasted 60 years, and we are satisfied," he told AFP.

Remembering Lumumba

Ceremonies are to take place on 21 and 22 June in Brussels, with Congolese president Félix Tshisekedi due to attend.

Tshisekedi has said he is planning the construction of a mausoleum for Lumumba in Kinshasa.

The history of Belgium's involvement in the Congo before and after independence has remained controversial, but a 2000-2001 parliamentary inquiry concluded that the country bore "moral responsibility" for Lumumba's assassination.

Brussels officially apologised for its actions in the Congo in 2002.

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