Belgium returns tooth of slain Congolese prime minister to his family

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Belgium returned the tooth of assassinated Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba to his family on Monday. The gold-crowned tooth is the only remnant of Lumumba, who died in 1961, and holds symbolic significance for the Congo.

His tooth was handed over to relatives in a ceremony in Brussels, more than sixty years after Lumumba’s death.

A Belgian policeman allegedly confiscated the tooth when he helped clean up the murdered Lumumba’s body. On his own initiative, he sawed the bodies of the prime minister and two associates into pieces and dissolved them in sulfuric acid. Belgian justice had found the tooth in 2016 as part of an investigation into the murder.

Lumumba was a champion of independence and became the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the country separated from Belgium in 1960. After ruling for three months, he was already deposed. The Prime Minister had criticized Belgium’s colonial policy in the Congo and sought a rapprochement with Moscow during the Cold War.

Lumumba was assassinated on Congolese soil in January 1961 by separatists. This happened in the presence of some Belgians. Belgium accepted “moral responsibility” for his death 40 years later and apologized. His daughter Juliana Lumumba asked for her father’s tooth in a letter to King Philippe in 2020. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo again apologized to Lumumba’s family during Monday’s ceremony.

There was no DNA test, so according to Belgian justice there is no absolute certainty that the tooth belongs to Lumumba. The tooth will go to Congo on Tuesday and tour across the country. The remains of Lumumba will be officially buried on June 30 after three days of national mourning. That is 62 years after Congolese independence.

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