War-crimes charges in Lumumba death

2011-01-17 19:20
Brussels - Activists plan to file a civil suit alleging war crimes by a dozen former Belgian officials they say participated in the assassination of Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba 50 years ago, a Brussels attorney who heads the legal team said on Monday.

Lumumba headed Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest political party and was elected prime minister when Belgium granted independence to the country on June 30 1960, after almost a century of colonial rule. Many in the West viewed the charismatic prime minister as a dangerous radical because he wanted to nationalise the new nation's lucrative, Belgian-owned gold, copper and uranium mining industry.

The killing made Lumumba an anti-colonial martyr and a liberation symbol to many Africans and Asians. It inspired revolutionaries from South Africa and Cuba to Vietnam and Algeria.

"We want the case against the officials implicated in the murder to be airtight," said historian Ludo De Witte, who blamed the Belgian government for the killing in a 1999 book and is part of the group of activists.

A Belgian parliamentary probe determined in 2002 that the government was "morally responsible" for Lumumba's death. Brussels officially apologized for its role in his death but refused to pay compensation to his family or to prosecute those involved.

Potential threat

A US Senate committee found in 1975 that the US administration had also hatched a separate plan to kill the Congolese leader because Washington viewed the leftist leader as a potential threat.

DRC’s production of weapons-grade uranium vastly raised the stakes for the United States, which had used Congolese uranium to build the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

Christophe Marchand, who heads the legal team, said the suit, which was originally supposed to have been submitted to the court in June, was delayed due to volume of archives that had to be studied.

"There was an enormous mass of documents we needed to consult, including reports of commissions of inquiry both in Belgium and the United States, in order to establish the facts," he said.

Marchand said the complaint will be refiled "in coming weeks." He refused to name any of the officials they planned to implicate.

Truth about the assassination

On Sunday, several hundred demonstrators rallied around the statue of King Leopold II, who colonised DRC in the mid-19th century. Belgium's harsh rule caused the deaths of between four million and eight million Congolese.

"We want the truth about the assassination, we want justice done after 50 years, and we want Belgium to pay reparations for the consequences the assassination caused," said Jean Marie Luhahi Mongo, one of the organisers of the rally.

Historians agree that top Belgian officials and officers conspired to overthrow Lumumba and organised and his execution on January 17, 1961. The death ushered in the long, corrupt dictatorship of Congo's Western-backed leader Mobutu Sese Seko, who was finally overthrown in 1997.

The Belgian army captain who commanded the firing squad, was given a new name and secretly transferred to the Belgian brigade in West Germany to avoid public exposure.

Lumumba was hastily buried after the execution. But Belgian police later dug up the corpse, dissolved it in acid and crushed the remaining bones to avoid turning the grave into a pilgrimage site.

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