By AFP News…..
- Belgium, which once controlled a vast tract of central Africa as Belgian Congo, will finally hand back the tooth that is thought to be the last human remains of Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered in 1961.
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.
In an interview with AFP in Brussels, Francois and Roland Lumumba, 69 and 63, 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 Belgian Congo, will finally hand back the tooth that is thought to be the last human remains of Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered in 1961.
He is now known to have been killed on January 17 by separatists and Belgian mercenaries in the breakaway province of Katanga during the chaos that followed the territory’s 1960 declaration of independence.
December 1, 1960: Soldiers guard Patrice Lumumba (R), Prime Minister of then Congo-Kinshasa, and Joseph Okito (L), vice-president of the Senate, upon their arrest in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Photo credit: STR | AFP
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.
This “relic” will now be returned to the family and laid to rest after a series of “national funerals” in his homeland.
“For us, this is his remains, it means a lot to us,” said Roland Lumumba, the third of the late premier’s children after Francois and daughter Juliana, who last year wrote to Philippe, King of the Belgians, to ask for the tooth.
Doppelgangers of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s past leaders, (from L) former President Mobutu Sese Seko, former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, outgoing President Joseph Kabila, slain President Laurent-Desire Kabila and slain Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba attend the inauguration ceremony for President-elect Felix Tshisekedi on January 24, 2019 at the presidential premises in Kinshasa. Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP
Ceremonies are expected to take place on June 21 and 22 in Brussels.
The brothers plan a first event to receive the remains from Belgian officials, then the next day an official Congolese ceremony, probably attended by the current President Felix Tshisekedi.
The family also hopes to be able to display a coffin draped in the Congolese flag in public in Brussels for the Congolese and broader African communities to pay their respects before the return.
Francois told AFP that the family and Belgian authorities had been able to “harmonise our views” on how things should go, but two Belgian official sources said there is still some uncertainty about the dates.
In December 18, 1960, in Stanleyville (now Kisangani), Congolese hold a banner claiming independence in Congo and supporting leader Lumumba, as King Baudouin of Belgium visits the former colony Belgian Congo (Congo Belge), now called Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo credit: AFP
Another Belgian official confirmed, however, that a Congolese delegation is expected in Brussels to receive the tooth and that this should take place before June 30, when a ceremony in honour of Lumumba is planned in Kinshasa.
Tshisekedi has said he is planning a mausoleum in the DRC capital for Lumumba, who served as prime minister of the then Republic of the Congo between independence in June 1960 and September.
He was killed after Belgium backed the Katanga revolt in a Cold War manoeuvre and his young sons — then ten and three years old — were exiled for a while in Egypt, which under President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a non-aligned power.
In 2002, the Belgian government apologised to the country and for the past ten years there has been an active judicial investigation for an alleged “war crime” based on a complaint from elder son Francois.
According to the brothers’ lawyer Christophe Marchand, the probe is coming to an end and the plan is to have a first hearing before before the end of the year before a judicial body that can refer the case for a possible trial.
“Little by little, Belgium is facing up to its very painful and criminal colonial past and is taking action,” the lawyer said.