Belgian authorities return Patrice Lumumba's tooth to his relatives

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Belgian authorities return Patrice Lumumba's tooth to his relatives
Belgian authorities return Patrice Lumumba's tooth to his relatives
20 June, 17:47In the worldPhoto: AFP/Getty Images
This happened 61 years after the assassination of the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During a private ceremony in Brussels, the Belgian authorities handed over to the relatives of Patrice Lumumba the only thing left of him - a gold tooth, reports the Associated Press. The case with the relic was presented to the relatives of the politician by the federal prosecutor, the ceremony was also attended by the Prime Minister of Belgium and Congolese officials.

The murder of Patrice Lumumba is one of the most shameful episodes of exploitation that Belgium has subjected an African country to for almost a century. Lumumba played a key role in the Congo's struggle for independence and became its first democratically elected leader since independence in 1960. He lasted only six months in power, becoming a victim of the Cold War and internal power struggles. When Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for help in crushing a separatist movement in the mineral-rich region of Katanga, he fell out of favor with Belgium and the United States. So, despite Lumumba's appeal to the UN, the Western powers did not intervene when his opponent Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in a military coup.

Together with his closest associates, Lumumba was imprisoned, and then tortured and shot by a hastily assembled firing squad of Katangese soldiers, who were under the command of Belgian officers. The dead were buried at the place of execution, and the next day the corpses were dug up, dismembered, dissolved in acid and the remains burned - out of fear that the grave would turn into a place of pilgrimage. All this happened with the knowledge of the then king of Belgium, Baudouin, who knew about the assassination plans, and the Belgian government, which provided financial and military assistance to Lumumba's opponents. Subsequently, it also turned out that the CIA had developed its own plan to assassinate the Congolese leader, but it failed.

In 2000, Belgian police officer Gerard Soete confessed to taking part in the murder and retaining two of Lumumba's teeth. In 2016, daughter Soete showed off Lumumba's gold tooth during an interview. The scientist Ludo De Witte filed a complaint against her, and the tooth was removed by the Belgian authorities. According to representatives of the Belgian prosecutor's office, the return of the tooth is more of a symbolic gesture: there is no absolute certainty that these are the remains of Lumumba, and a DNA examination is impossible due to fears of destruction and loss of the tooth.

The ceremony has become one of the acts of the campaign, during which the Belgian government is trying to atone for the guilt of its predecessors, responsible for the country's colonial policy in the 19th and 20th centuries. A little earlier, King Philip of Belgium brought his "deepest regrets" about the abuses in the Congo by visiting the former colony. However, the Congolese politicians were dissatisfied with the king's speech, believing that regrets were not enough to atone for Belgium's guilt before the Congo: an apology and reparation were needed.

The son of the late prime minister, Roland Lumumba, who attended the handover of his father's remains, refused to criticize the king. “There is no need to hold grudges if the other side is reaching out to us,” he said. According to Roland Lumumba, the return of the tooth means that the family can finally end their mourning: “I can’t call it joy, but it is important for us that we can bury our loved one, and his soul will finally rest in peace”.

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