Belgium to hand over remains of Congo's murdered prime minister

Belgium to hand over remains of Congo's murdered prime minister
Lumumba pictured in Brussels at the Round Table Conference of 1960. Credit: Harry Pot- Anefo/Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

A Belgian court has ruled that the remains of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, kept by Belgium after his murder, can be returned to his family.

An examining magistrate ruled on Thursday that Lumumba's tooth could be given back, ruling in favour of the late statesman's daughter, who in June called on the Belgian state to return her fathers remains.

In June, 64-year-old Juliana Lumumba wrote a letter to King Philippe asking for her father's remains to be returned "to the land of his ancesters."

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The ruling on Thursday followed a decision by the federal public prosecutor's office that Lumumba's remains could be given back, the Belga news agency reports.

In 2002, accounts of Belgium's involvement in Lumumba's murder that emerged in past years led Belgium to issue an official apology for its role in the death of the first prime minister of independent Congo.

Lumumba, whose time at the helm of independent Congo lasted less than three months, was overthrown and given up to Belgian-backed separatists militias, who executed him by a firing squad in 1961.

An account given by a Belgian general on his role in the disposal of Lumumba's death after his capture and murder and sparked a diplomatic crisis between Belgium and Congo and ultimately led to the former's official apology.

In a 1999 book by sociologist Ludo Di Witte, Belgian Police Commissioner Gérard Soete detailed how, tasked with disposing of Lumumba's corpse, he had sawed the man's body into pieces and dissolved it in sulfuric acid.

Soete, who died in 2000, was also shown in a German documentary revealing that the Belgian officer had wrung two teeth from Lumumba's jaw and kept them, Le Soir reports.

In 2016, one tooth was seized by authorities as part of an investigation by federal public prosecutors on Lumumba's death.

The ruling on Thursday will allow Lumumba's relatives to come collect what remains of the late Congolese leader.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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