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Belgium apologizes for lumumba assasination { February 6 2002 }

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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 23:50 GMT
Lumumba apology: Congo's mixed feelings

By the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa

On the busy Kinshasa street known as the "standing parliament" because people gather there to discuss the issues of the day, hundreds of Congolese milled around newspaper stalls, reading the news of Belgium's apology for the assassination of their former leader Patrice Lumumba.

Most of the people in the predominantly male crowd could not afford to buy the papers, but that did not stop them from reading the headlines - and voicing their opinions.

"Lumumba assassination - at least Brussels recognises its responsibility," said the Tempete des Tropiques on Wednesday morning.

"Belgium apologises to the victim's family and to the Congolese people," wrote Le Potentiel.

And La Reference Plus, the only paper to run the apology as a top story, simply said "Belgium asks forgiveness".

Most Congolese have the feeling that Belgium should go even further.

"Up until now they have not given us any good reasons for the assassination. We must know the true reasons for the assassination," said 19-year-old Ben Kabeia.


An old man named Daniel Galamulume was also standing in the crowd.

Born in 1935 he remembers clearly when the country's first elected prime minister was killed in January 1961.

He said the affair was a "big disappointment" for him.

What he could not forgive his former colonisers for was their treatment of the the Congolese people.

"We needed special permits to stay in this district at night," he said.

"And the Belgians were very harsh with their workers. They used to whip us badly. The assassination of Lumumba was just another sad event on the list."

Most Congolese I spoke to have mixed feelings toward their former rulers.

They still nickname Belgians "Noko", which means "uncle".

But at the same time, they blame Belgium and other western powers not only for Lumumba's assassination, but also for the backing given for 32 years to the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who succeeded Patrice Lumumba.

Since then Congo has been shaken between wars and dictatorships.

As a result, even now, Congolese are too busy dealing with a difficult present to commemorate the past.

But if Belgium not only asked forgiveness but was successful in its attempts to help restore peace and democracy in the DRC, then a new relationship would probably start between Belgium and Congo.

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