Eisenhower ordered Congo killing

The revelation that President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the CIA to "eliminate" Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo and a celebrated African freedom martyr, has again turned the spotlight on a country that, 40 years after independence, remains the world's biggest and most anarchic battleground.

The revelation that President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the CIA to "eliminate" Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo and a celebrated African freedom martyr, has again turned the spotlight on a country that, 40 years after independence, remains the world's biggest and most anarchic battleground.

Police officers from Belgium, the former colonial power, are understood to have overseen the killing of 35-year-old Lumumba on 17 January 1961. But the evidence that Eisenhower told the Central Intelligence Agency to kill the radical liberation politician confirms that the West could not tolerate a major African country potentially being led by a man seen to have Soviet leanings.

Instead, in one of the most blatant examples of a former colony being prevented from managing its own independence, the West supported the brutal and corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko until he was ousted by rebel leader Laurent Kabila in 1997.

In what has become known as Africa's First World War, President Kabila is now using armed force to stay in power against rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Today, a week after the third anniversary of the start of the latest Congo war - in which six countries are involved - African leaders are meeting in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to seek a way forward. Few observers expect much progress.

The present war, in common with the West's decision to murder Lumumba, is centred on natural resources. In 1945, the uranium for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs came from the Shinkolobwe mine in the Belgian Congo. At independence in 1960, the central African country - the size of France, Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy combined - produced 50 per cent of the world's uranium, almost all of it for the United States.

Eisenhower's order came to light last week with the publication of a 1975 interview with a White House minute-taker, Robert Johnson. The transcript of Mr Johnson's interview, which accidentally came to light in archive material connected with the assassination of President John F Kennedy, states that Eisenhower ordered the killing at a meeting with security advisers in August 1960 - two months after Congo's independence from Belgium.

"There was a stunned silence for about 15 seconds and the meeting continued," said Mr Johnson.

Lumumba, an Africanist who worked for the postal service and as a brewery salesman, was shot deep in the Congolese bush, and his body was destroyed in an acid-bath.

Most of what is known about the death has been revealed in the past year through Belgian sources, after revelations by a journalist, Ludo de Witte, last December forced the country's government to launch an investigation. De Witte's controversial book, De Moord Op Lumumba, is unequivocal.

Using declassified archives, De Witte established that Belgium's African affairs minister at the time of Congo's independence, Harold d'Aspremont Lynden, called for Lumumba's "definitive elimination" in a memo written on 5 October 1960 - two months after the White House meeting.

At the time, Lumumba was under house arrest - ordered by Mobutu - but he escaped on 27 November. On 2 December he was arrested again by Mobutu's men. According to De Witte, Ghanaan United Nations troops in Port Francqui - the place of the arrest - were under orders not to intervene "to hinder Lumumba's pursuers" who would take him into "protective custody".

Lumumba's death and the destruction of his remains appear to have been a joint US-Belgian operation, facilitated by officers serving in Moise Tshombe's Katangese gendarmerie, loyal to Mobutu.

The head of the firing squad that executed Lumumba was from the Belgian military and other Belgian officers are believed to have helped saw up the corpses of Lumumba and his two aides, and dumped them in sulphuric acid.

For every new revelation about Lumumba's death, the case increases for his relatives and even the Congolese state to sue Belgium and possibly the US for compensation. No decision is likely until the Belgian parliamentary commission of inquiry publishes its findings, possibly later this year.

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