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Belgium returns Lumumba tooth to relatives

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Belgium handed over the last remains of assassinated Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba – a tooth – to his family on Monday, turning a page on a grim chapter in its colonial past.

Chief Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw gave the relatives a small, bright blue box containing the tooth during a televised ceremony, saying the legal action they took to receive the relic had brought “justice”.

The tooth would be placed in a coffin and flown to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Lumumba, who was murdered in 1961 by separatists and Belgian mercenaries, is celebrated as an anti-colonial hero.

Lumumba’s son Roland said at a press conference in Brussels on Friday that the restitution would allow his family to “end their mourning”.

The murder of Lumumba – and the brutal history of Belgian control over the Congo – are lasting sources of pain between the two countries.

Lumumba, an ardent critic of Belgium’s predatory rule, became his country’s first prime minister after it gained independence in 1960.

But he feuded with the former colonial power and the United States and was ousted by a coup a few months after taking office.

He was executed on January 17, 1961 at the age of 35 in the southern region of Katanga, with the support of Belgian mercenaries.

His body was dissolved in acid and never found.

But the tooth was kept as a trophy by one of his killers, a Belgian police officer.

The tooth was seized by Belgian authorities in 2016 from the police officer’s daughter, Gerard Soete, after Lumumba’s family filed a complaint.

The DRC will hold three days of “national mourning” – the 62nd anniversary of independence – from June 27-30, to mark the funeral ceremony in Kinshasa of the remains.

Lumumba’s children were also received on Monday by the Belgian King Philippe, who this month traveled to DR Congo to express his “deepest regrets” about the colonial past.

Historians say millions of people were killed, maimed or died of disease when they were forced to collect rubber under his rule. The land was also looted for its mineral wealth, timber and ivory.

(AFP)

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