Friday, August 18, 2006

Lumumba 'killers' revealed

Brussels - Forty-five years after the murder of the Democratic Republic of Congo's independence hero Patrice Lumumba, a Belgian researcher says he has finally solved the most persistent mystery surrounding his death: who gave the order to kill him?

Historians agreed that Belgium - which on June 30 1960 ended a century of colonial rule in the DRC - conspired to overthrow its only democratically elected prime minister.

Some maintained that the Belgian political elite, including then-King Boudouin, were directly to blame for his execution.

Now Jacques Brassinne, a leading Belgian expert on events leading up to the murder, said he had established that - while Belgian officers took an active part in the operation - the man who directly ordered the execution was Godefroid Munongo, interior minister of Katanga, the mineral-rich province that broke away from the DRC immediately after independence.

'Moral responsibility'

The circumstances surrounding Lumumba's death had long been hotly debated in Belgium, and indeed much of the evidence had pointed to the DRC's former colonial master as the guilty party.

In 2001, a government commission established that the Belgian authorities bore "moral responsibility" for the murder of Lumumba, who intended to nationalise the hugely profitable Western mining interests in the DRC's southern province of Katanga.

The inquiry determined that after being overthrown in a coup on September 04 1960 by general Joseph Mobutu, Lumumba was jailed in the capital, Kinshasa. On January 17 1961, it was Belgian officials who spirited Lumumba and two of his government ministers away by plane to Katanga.

The United States and Britain were also involved in covert attempts to assassinate the charismatic leftist leader who, at the height of the Cold War, was seen as a potential geopolitical threat because he had made overtures to the Soviets.

Munongo 'wanted them dead'

The fact that Katanga produced nuclear weapons-grade uranium vastly raised the stakes for global players.

Whoever held ultimate responsibility for Lumumba's execution, Brassinne said it was the Katanga leadership that gave the actual order.

According to the historian, Katanga's leaders, headed by Belgian-appointed president Moise Tchombe, had no knowledge of Lumumba's impending arrival until the plane touched down in Elizabethville - today's Lubumbashi - Katanga's capital.

Tchombe and his government ministers later convened a secret meeting in a house near the airport, where the decision was made to execute the trio.

Brassinne, who at the time served in the Belgian consulate in Katanga and later wrote a doctoral thesis on the events there, said: "The decision to kill them was made by Munongo, who insisted they should be put to death.

"Tchombe and others wanted to keep him in jail, but eventually acquiesced to Munongo's insistence that he be eliminated."


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