ALGIERS: Algeria on Friday received the skulls of 24 resistance fighters decapitated during France’s colonial occupation of the North African country, and which had been stored for decades in a Paris museum.

The return of the remains comes amid a global re-examination of the legacy of colonialism since the May killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd by a white police officer sparked mass protests.

The skulls, once viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, were flown into Algiers airport on a Hercules C-130 transport plane, escorted on arrival by Algerian fighter jets.

To a 21-gun salute, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and a military guard of honour gave them an official welcome, a correspondent said.

The remains, in coffins draped with the Algerian flag, were carried shoulder high out of the aircraft by soldiers as a military band played a funeral march.

Tebboune bowed in front of each coffin and a cleric recited a prayer for the dead.

Army chief of staff Said Chengriha delivered a speech denouncing colonialism as “despicable”. “The heroes of the popular revolt have returned to the land where they sacrificed their lives,” he said.

The coffins will be on display at the Palace of Culture in Algiers on Saturday for the public to pay their respects.

On Sunday, the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence, the skulls will finally be laid to rest in the martyrs’ section of the capital’s El Alia cemetery, local media reported.

France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria, and the brutal eight-year war that ended it, have left a legacy of often prickly relations between the two countries.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020