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Belgium returns Congolese independence hero’s gold tooth

By Javier Albisu

Brussels, Jun 20 (EFE).- Belgian authorities on Monday returned a gold-capped tooth that belonged to Congolese independence icon Patrice Lumumba, who was executed in 1961.

Lumumba was serving as the newly independent Congo’s first prime minister when he was brutally arrested, imprisoned and executed alongside two of his lieutenants on January 17, 1961 at the age of 36.

Both Belgian officers and American CIA agents were complicit in the independence hero’s slaying and had tried to kill him previously by poisoning his toothpaste.

The following day, the Congolese National Movement founder’s body was dismembered and dissolved in acid to wipe any evidence of the crime.

But one of the Belgian policemen in charge of making the body disappear, Gerard Soete, stole two of the nationalist leader’s teeth and kept them as “hunting trophies,” as he would later recount.

Soete kept the secret for almost four decades and only confessed in 1999, a year before he died, dramatically putting the spotlight on an unresolved judicial investigation into a crime over which Belgium has now officially admitted “moral responsibility.”

In 2016, Belgium’s Prosecutor’s Office searched the former policeman’s house and found a tooth, the only relic on record, although the family suspects that a second tooth and the phalanx of a finger are still in Belgium.

“The Belgian government unequivocally denounces colonization as a governance and ideological system,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said on Monday at the handover ceremony.

The prime minister offered his “apologies” during the event in Brussels where the Federal Prosecutor’s Office handed over the remains to Lumumba’s three children François, Juliana and Roland.

The restitution comes 61 years after the crime, in a new effort to heal the wounds of Belgium’s colonial rule, which spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries and saw the European nation emerge as an economic global power over its plundering of Congo’s resources.

Before the ceremony, Lumumba’s relatives met at the Palace with King Philippe, who earlier this month traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and expressed his “deepest regrets for the wounds” inflicted on the country by his ancestors.

The population of the Congo Free State (1885-1908), the private property of Belgian king Leopold II, endured atrocious conditions of semi-slavery and brutal punishments.

Between five and 10 million Congolese died during this period.

The tooth of the anti-colonialist hero will return to DRC on Tuesday night.

The relic will be buried on June 30 at the Patrice Emery Lumumba Memorial in Kinshasa.EFE


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