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Belgian monarch visit to DRC marked by remembrance and reconciliation

Belgium's King Philippe (R) and Belgium's Queen Mathilde are greeted upon their arrival at the N'djili International Airport in Kinshasa on June 7, 2022.   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

King Philippe's six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo is billed as a chance to build new ties after atrocities committed during the colonial rule. The visit comes as Belgium gets ready to return a tooth -- the last remains of Patrice Lumumba -- a hero of the anti-colonial struggle.

On Tuesday, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium were greeted at the international airport of Kinshasa by President Felix Tshisekedi and his wife Denise. It was the first time since 2010 that a Belgian monarch visited DRC, a territory that was ruled as a colony by Northwestern European nation.

The Belgian Prime Minister, who embarked on the six-day trip alongside the king, said it was a historic moment.

A sentiment echoed by this Congolese in Kinshasa: "Diplomatic ties have been reopened again, these relations were broken for several years because of the bad policy of our predecessors, Théodore Omekenge, a close associate of the ruling party said. But now that the policy has been renewed by the current head of state, we, members of the ruling political party are happy and we know that the arrival of King Philippe will bring something new on the diplomatic level."

Looking at the past and the future

Tshisekedi and King Philippe are due to hold a ceremony at the Congolese parliament Wednesday. Then on Friday, the monarch will deliver a speech to university students in the southern city of Lubumbashi.

According to Belgium's royal palace, the king is will discuss the question of returning artworks looted during the colonial era. Some ovbsevers believe the trip a chance for reconciliation after atrocities committed under Belgian colonial rule.

On Monday, Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya told reporters that Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were starting a "new partnership." "We are not forgetting the past, we are looking to the future", he added.

The visit comes as Belgium gets ready to return a tooth -- the last remains of Patrice Lumumba -- a hero of the anti-colonial struggle. Lumumba was murdered by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961, and his body dissolved in acid, but the tooth was kept as a trophy by one of his killers, a Belgian police officer.

King Leopold II, the brother of Philippe's great great grandfather, oversaw the conquest of what is now DRC, governing the territory as his personal property between 1885 and 1908 before it became a Belgian colony. Historians say that millions of people were killed, mutilated or died of disease as they were forced to collect rubber under his rule. The land was also pillaged for its mineral wealth, timber and ivory.

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