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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Belgium probes Lumumba's death
By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

The Belgian parliament has opened an inquiry into possible government involvement in the killing in 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's first prime minister after the country gained independence from Belgian colonial rule.

The inquiry follows the publication of a book in Belgium which claims that the government of the day orchestrated the murder in order to maintain control over the country's rich mineral resources.

Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba: Secret message suggested Brussels wanted him killed
The ghost of Patrice Lumumba has haunted Belgium's relations with the richest of its former colonies in central Africa for almost 40 years.

His killing, just a few months after the former Belgian Congo became independent, is one of the mysteries of the Cold War.

Mr Lumumba was abducted and killed by the leaders of the breakaway Katanga province.

Government accused

But last year, a book published by a Belgian sociologist claimed that the greatest responsibility for the crime lay with the Belgian Government, which was worried about Mr Lumumba's nationalist and pro-Soviet leanings.

A secret official cable from 1960 quoted in the book described the elimination of Mr Lumumba as the most important objective for the Congo and for Belgium.

The parliamentary inquiry, expected to last a year, will look into the role of Belgian officials, diplomats and military, as well as of the mining companies that had a stake in keeping the mineral-rich Congo in the Western sphere of influence.

If the claims are confirmed, the Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel has already pledged to make an official apology.

Ethical policy

The planned inquiry comes soon after Belgium's adoption of a new ethical foreign policy.

Last month, the Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt went to Rwanda, another former Belgian colony, and publicly apologised for the lack of international action to prevent mass ethnic slaughter there in 1994.

In a bid to change Belgium's image abroad, his government took the lead for the prosecution of the former Chilean military leader Augusto Pinochet and against the ascent of the far-right in Austria.

And, to show it has turned a new page in its relations with the country now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium today officially protested at the detention a week ago of Mr Lumumba's eldest son Francois, who heads a Congolese opposition party, and who has been prevented from seeing his lawyer.

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24 Apr 00 | Africa
Lumumba's son arrested
07 Apr 00 | Africa
Belgian apology to Rwanda
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