Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (C) speaks during an official ceremony to return the remains of late Congolese Patrice Emery Lumumba to his family, at the Egmont Palace, in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday. Photo by Nicolas Maeterlinck/EPA-EFE
June 20 (UPI) -- The Belgian government agreed on Monday to return a gold tooth that belonged to murdered Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba to his family.
A symbolic handover ceremony held by the Belgian government in front of the Lumumba's relatives took place in Brussels.
Lumumba, who was serving as prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was killed in 1961 by separatists and Belgian mercenaries. Those involved in the death dissolved his body in acid and kept his gold teeth as souvenirs.
At the time, Lumumba was revered as a champion against African colonialism.
"I can't say it's a feeling of joy, but it's positive for us that we can bury our loved one," his son Roland Lumumba said, according to The Guardian. "His soul will be able to rest in peace. It's important for us."
The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, won independence from Belgium in 1960 and Lumumba was elected as the country's first independent prime minister. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a professor of African studies at the University of North Carolina, said he was praised as someone who was committed to independence in Africa.
"We were so hopeful that independence would mean progress, better working and living conditions, more prosperity, using our national resources for the well-being of our people," Nzongola-Ntalaja said, according to NBC News.
"[Lumumba was the] standard-bearer of the Congolese independence movement. We consider Lumumba to be a great chief and a great leader."
The Congolese leader, though, became caught up in Cold War politics with the United States and western Europe fearing he would side with the Soviet Union, allowing it to access the country's mineral riches.
He was removed in a Western-backed coup three months after taking office, leading to his brutal murder and his gold teeth being stolen.