Belgium has given a tooth, the only known remains of the murdered Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, to members of his family.
The restitution of the relic came after Belgium’s King Philippe expressed his “deepest regrets” for his country’s abuses in its African former colony, Congo.
A Belgian official gave the gold-capped tooth, which was in a blue box, to members of Lumumba’s family during a private ceremony at Egmont Palace in central Brussels on Monday.
“It isn’t normal that Belgians held on to the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a speech.
Lumumba became the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) first democratically elected prime minister after the nation became independent from Belgium in 1960, but his overtures to Moscow at the height of the Cold War sparked concerns in the West.
His government was overthrown after just three months and he was assassinated by firing squad in 1961.
A Belgian parliamentary probe into his killing found in 2002 that Belgium was “morally responsible” for Lumumba’s death.
His supporters and some historians have accused the CIA of ordering the killing.
Other says Western powers failed to intervene when he was arrested and jailed.
Why does Belgium have the tooth?
Lumumba’s body was dismembered and dissolved with acid to prevent any grave from becoming a pilgrimage site.
The daughter of a Belgian police commissioner took the tooth after overseeing the destruction of the body.
Decades later, it was seized by Belgian officials.
Lumumba’s daughter, Juliana, sent a letter to Belgium’s king in 2020 asking for her father’s remains to be returned.
She agreed with Congolese Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, who said the return of the relic was long overdue.
“Father, our hearts bled for 61 years,” she said during the official ceremony, speaking next to a coffin with a picture of her late father on top of it.
“We, your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren – but also Congo, Africa and the world – we mourned your death without a eulogy.”
She said there was a lot that is still unknown about the final moments of his life, adding: “All we know is that you were convicted and unable to defend yourself.”