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[From our archives] Huyghé ‘boasted’ of assassination of Patrice Lumumba

A United Nations report compiled in 1961 — the year of former Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba’s death — has shed more light on the role supposedly played by Belgian military man Charles Huyghé in the assassination.

The report, compiled by a team led by then-UN secretary general U Thant, features several interviews with mercenaries stationed in what was then the Republic of the Congo, conducted soon after the assassination. Some of the mercenaries claim that Huyghé — who has been living in South Africa for the past 50 years – boasted of having fired the gun that ended Lumumba’s life.

In 1960, Lumumba became the first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo. He was assassinated following a coup, months after he had assumed power. The CIA is said to have been involved in behind-the-scene manoeuvres to oust Lumumba, as well as in earlier assassination attempts. Lumumba was perceived as a threat to Western interests because of his liaisons with Soviet forces.

The report also contains revelations of how the UN commission’s request to interview 15 suspects soon after the murder was sidelined by the Belgian ministry of foreign affairs, which informed the commission that the suspects were either on holiday or could not be tracked down.

The Congolese government and the UN secretariat in Congo also dissuaded the commission from coming to the Congo immediately after the killings, which also took the lives of government officials Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito.

“Among those who could be contacted through the Belgian ministry of foreign affairs, some refused outright to appear before the commission and others did not even reply to the commission’s requests,” the report states.

A footnote states that Huyghé and Belgian mercenary Julien Gat “were in a position to appear before the commission, but they avoided doing so”. In other passages, it states that “a great deal of suspicion is cast on a certain Colonel Huyghé, a Belgian mercenary, as being the actual perpetrator of Mr Lumumba’s murder, which was committed in accordance with a prearranged plan, and that a certain Captain Gat, also a Belgian mercenary, was at all times an accessory to the crime”.

The 103-page document, supplied to the Mail & Guardian by Anna Roosevelt, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, contains accounts of Huyghé’s “boasts”, as recounted by those he allegedly told, the most detailed being rendered by Roderick Russell-Cargill.

“He then mentioned that Lumumba was brought into the room and that he himself personally shot Lumumba,” Russell-Cargill stated to the commission. “He rather stressed the death of Lumumba by stating that when Lumumba walked into the room, he started screaming and crying for his life. He [Lumumba] turned to everybody in the room and stated that whatever they wanted as a reward he would give them, if he was not killed. Huyghé’s words to me were: ‘Pray, you bastard’ — excuse the expression, but those were his words to me — ‘you had no pity on women or children or nuns of your own faith, so pray!'”

Russell-Cargill continued: “Lumumba, according to Huyghé, fell on the ground and started rolling and screaming for mercy and Huyghé said he shot him as he rolled on the ground. I said ‘Christ, no, Charley!’ and he said ‘Yes, Roddy, it is so’. But I would like to stress here, as I stressed in my report to your legal representative in Leopoldville, that we had both been drinking and Huyghé at that time might have been bragging —”

Huyghé was apparently exonerated by a Belgian parliamentary commission some years ago. Roosevelt, who is working on a book about Lumumba’s murder as well as other massacres and assassinations conducted by colonial forces in the region, believes that successful prosecution of all the implicated parties would require the release of all censored documents and a tribunal controlled by Africans, because Westerners would look out for their own interests in such processes.

“Something would have to be done fast, because the perpetrators are old,” she said. “Your race, your age, your state of health, the powerfulness of your country — none of that should get you off.”

Huyghé told the M&G on Thursday that he had “nothing to say” and referred queries to his lawyer. His legal representative, advocate Robin Ford, said as far as he was aware, the allegations were made by two different people, both of whom had been subsequently discredited. “One was discredited in his personal conduct relating to his recruitment of mercenaries,” he said. “The other’s deposition was later withdrawn as it was incorrectly commissioned. Whatever the accusations were, they were re-examined when Huyghé was before the Belgian parliamentary commission in Brussels.”

He added that he was not sure whether Belgium was a subscriber to the International Criminal Court, “but if it was, the Belgian high court would have to give leave for Huyghé to be indicted. His case is not before the high court because if it was, I would expect papers saying what the charges were.”

In 2009 Huyghé was made an officer of the Order of Leopold, an award granted for extreme bravery in combat or for “meritorious service of immense benefit to the Belgian nation”. The award was made by former Belgian ambassador Jan Mutton. Huyghé was also named a Knight of the Realm.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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