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DRC: Belgium to return Patrice Lumumba's tooth

DRC: Belgium to return Patrice Lumumba's tooth
FILE - Photo from December 1960 showing soldiers guarding Patrice Lumumba, ...   -  
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Belgium will return a "relic" of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the former Belgian colony who was assassinated in 1961, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at an official ceremony in Brussels on 20 June.

The principle of this restitution, demanded by the Lumumba family from the Belgian King Philippe, has been accepted since 2020.

However, the ceremony has already been postponed several times, notably because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The aim is to return the remains of Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) to his native country, in this case, a tooth recovered by the Belgian justice system from the family of a policeman who contributed to the disappearance of the body over 60 years ago.

This Belgian policeman, Gérard Soete, now deceased, had decided to bring back with him some relics like "hunting trophies", according to the Belgian sociologist Ludo De Witte, author of a book on Lumumba's assassination. Only one tooth attributed to Lumumba was recovered by the federal prosecutor's office.

Belgian Congo

A hero of independence in June 1960, Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the former Belgian Congo (former Zaire, now the DRC) and was overthrown a few months later in a coup d'état.

He was executed on 17 January 1961 along with two brothers-in-arms by separatists from the Katanga region, with the support of mercenaries from the former colonial power.

His body, dissolved in acid, has never been found, and the restitution of this "relic" should make it possible to finally erect a "memorial" in his honour in Kinshasa.

Congolese diaspora

On 20 June, a Congolese delegation is expected in Brussels for the "return of the remains of Patrice Emery Lumumba", announced by the services of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

"Given the symbolic importance of the moment for the DRC, but also for Belgium and beyond," De Croo will deliver a speech on behalf of the Belgian state, a statement said.

Before the official ceremony, the restitution will take place in a "small group" in accordance with the family's wishes. There will then be a "moment of recollection" reserved for the Congolese diaspora in the Belgian capital.

Colonial period

This restitution is "a new turning point in the history of diplomatic relations between Belgium and the DRC, after the visit of King Philippe to the DRC", the statement added.

From 7 to 13 June, the Belgian sovereign is due to make his first visit to the former colony since the start of his reign in 2013.

On 30 June 2020, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of independence, King Philippe presented "his deepest regrets for the wounds" inflicted during the colonial period, a historic first.

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