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Murdered Congo leader's son seeks Belgian justice

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A son of Congo’s first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, will seek the prosecution on war crimes of 12 Belgian officials suspected of aiding his father’s assassination in 1961.

Francois Lumumba (R), the son of murdered former Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, sits next to his lawyer Bernard Remiche, before being heard in the Lumumba Commission in Brussels June 15, 2001. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Lawyers for Francois Lumumba plan to file the complaint at a Brussels court in October, they announced on Tuesday, a week before the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrates 50 years of independence from former colonial master Belgium.

“I want to know how he died. There are many books I can read and everything has been said, but there is no justice,” Guy Lumumba, the leader’s youngest son, told a news conference at which Francois was not present.

The complaint will assert that the Belgian government and military officials were involved in the transfer of Lumumba from the capital to the region of Katanga, and that they failed to prevent him being tortured and killed.

Patrice Lumumba came to power after the country won independence from colonial ruler Belgium in 1960. His government was overthrown in a coup led by Joseph-Desire Mobutu, the young head of Congo’s army.

Lumumba, mistrusted by Washington due to his close ties to the Soviet Union, escaped house arrest in January 1961 only to be recaptured, beaten, and killed by Mobutu’s soldiers with the assistance of Belgian officers, the complaint will say.

A 2001 Belgian parliamentary probe found that Belgium was “morally responsible” for the murder of Lumumba. Belgium has since officially apologised for its role in the death.

“Belgium was party to the conflict in Congo at the time. A conflict between several sovereign states -- Belgium and Congo -- which makes this an armed international conflict during which war crimes were committed,” lawyer Christophe Marchand said.

He declined to disclose the names of the 12 potential defendants, saying only that they were all in Congo at the time of Lumumba’s death.

Under the Mobutu regime, the vast central African country was plagued by corruption.

The Belgian government’s decision to accept an invitation to Congo’s independence day celebrations on June 30 has already stirred controversy because of tense relations between Belgium and its former colony.

King Albert will be the first Belgian monarch to visit the country in 25 years.

“This is a symbolic moment. Fifty years of independence is a good thing but we need to make clear that justice has not yet been done in the murder of Lumumba,” Marchand said.

Reporting by Antonia van de Velde