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17.01.2021 Congo

DR Congo honours Lumumba 60 years on from his assassination

A statue of Lumumba at Shilatembo, the site near the southern city of Lubumbashi where he was murdered.  By Samir Tounsi (AFP/File)
LISTEN JAN 17, 2021
A statue of Lumumba at Shilatembo, the site near the southern city of Lubumbashi where he was murdered. By Samir Tounsi (AFP/File)

The Democratic Republic of Congo honoured independence hero Patrice Lumumba on Sunday, marking 60 years since he was assassinated in a plot linked to the fledgling nation's colonial master Belgium.

President Felix Tshisekedi paid tribute to the charismatic politician at a site in the capital Kinshasa where a memorial is to be installed in his honour.

Lumumba's body will never be recovered however. Shot by firing squad by Katangan separatists and Belgian mercenaries on January 17, 1961, in southeastern Congo during the first, chaotic months of independence, his body was dissolved in acid.

The only part of his body ever recovered was a tooth seized from a Belgian policeman who, by his own account, took it while helping to dispose of the body.

Last month, Tshisekedi said Belgium would return the tooth to his family in time for independence anniversary celebrations on June 30.

Juliana Lumumba, the slain leader's daughter, wrote to Belgium's King Philippe last year, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests, asking for its return.

Prominent Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, also paid tribute to Lumumba, calling him "one of the greatest heroes in history".

Lumumba was a "man of determination who fought to the end for the freedom, the sovereignty of the #DRC", he wrote on Twitter. "A model of courage for the youth."

Lumumba was ousted from his post as prime minister shortly after independence and then delivered to his death at the hands of the Katangan separatists and the mercenaries.

In 2001, a Belgian parliamentary committee acknowledged that the country was "morally responsible" for his death. In 2012, a Brussels appeals court went further, describing his murder as a war crime.

An investigation in Belgium for war crimes is in its final phase, according to lawyer Christophe Marchand, who filed a complaint in 2011 on behalf of Francois Lumumba, a son of the slain leader.

"It was the Belgians who planned Lumumba's death and who carried it out," said Congolese historian Guillaume Nkongolo, referring to recently opened archives.

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