KIGALI, Rwanda

The remains of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, kept by Belgium after his assassination, can be returned to his family, a Belgian court ruled on Thursday.

The decision by an examining magistrate means that a tooth taken from Lumumba’s remains would be given back to his relatives, according to the Belga news agency.

The ruling comes months after the late statesman’s daughter Juliana Lumumba, 64, wrote a letter to Belgium’s King Philippe, asking for her father’s remains to be returned “to the land of his ancestors.”

Thursday’s ruling followed a decision by Belgium’s federal public prosecutor’s office that Lumumba’s remains could be returned.

Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, led independent Congo for less than three months, before he was forced out of office by Belgium-backed separatist militias.

He was assassinated on January 17, 1961, less than seven months after Congo had gained independence on June 30, 1960.

In 2002, Belgium issued an official apology for its role in his murder, after accounts emerged of how Lumumba’s body was brutalized after his death.

In a book by sociologist Ludo Di Witte, a former Belgian police commissioner Gerard Soete detailed how he chopped up the former statesman’s body and dissolved it in sulfuric acid.

In a German documentary, Soete revealed that he had kept two of Lumumba’s teeth.

One tooth was reportedly seized by authorities in 2016 as part of an investigation into Lumumba’s murder.

Lumumba was born in the village of Onalua in Kasai province on July 2, 1925, when Congo was a Belgian colony and hailed from the Batetela ethnic group.

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