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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 10:04 GMT
Lumumba's son hails Belgian apology
Francois Lumumba (L) with Louis Michel (R)
Lumumba's son (left) hailed Belgium's "courage"
Francois Lumumba, the son of Congo's first prime minister, has welcomed the "sincere regrets" expressed by Belgium over his father's 1961 assassination.

"This recognition by Belgium is a determining step, a sign of political courage that must be congratulated," he told reporters.


Belgium apologised for the first time on Tuesday for the killing of Patrice Lumumba who led Congo, later Zaire, to independence from the former colonial power.

This follows a Belgian parliamentary commission's conclusion last November that Belgium did bear moral responsibility for the killing.

The assassination has long been blamed on both Belgian intelligence and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

At the time, Africa was one of the battlegrounds in the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

'Indifference'

"The government feels it should extend to the family of Patrice Lumumba ... and to the Congolese people, its profound and sincere regrets and its apologies for the pain inflicted upon them," Foreign Minister Louis Michel said.

Patrice Lumumba
Lumumba: Liberator or agitator?
Mr Michel said Belgium had demonstrated "apathy" and "cold indifference" towards Lumumba.

Lumumba is the only elected leader in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo since it won independence from Belgium in 1960.

A charismatic nationalist, he was overthrown four months after he took office, and was later murdered, aged 35.

A Belgian commission of inquiry has heard testimony that Lumumba could not have been assassinated without the complicity of Belgian officers backed by the CIA.

Colonial past

In the chaos and factional fighting after independence, Lumumba was abducted by Congolese rivals, taken to the breakaway province of Katanga and killed.

Two years ago, a book claimed Belgium had been responsible for the logistics behind the killing.

But some have suggested that Lumumba's political rivals may have been to blame.

The parliamentary inquiry and debate are being seen as a way for Belgium to come to terms with its colonial past, correspondents say.

Sign of contrition

Belgium is setting up a Patrice Lumumba fund, worth over $3m, in what correspondents describe as an effort to make amends.

It will make an annual contribution of nearly $500,000 to the fund.

Its aim is to help Congo's democratic development by financing conflict prevention, legal and youth projects.

In a similar move two years ago, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologised to the people of Rwanda for his country's attitude during the 1994 genocide.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Oana Lungescu
"Belgium is setting up a Patrice Lumumba fund"
The BBC's Jim Corrigall
"Patrice Lumumba was a charismatic political leader and a fiery orator"
Sociologist Ludo De Witte
"This is the best we could get out of this commission"
See also:

07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
16 Nov 01 | Africa
Belgium link in Lumumba death
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