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This picture shows the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo.—Photo by Reuters

NEW DELHI: The British intelligence services abducted and assassinated Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister whose Pan-African nationalism and pro-Moscow leanings alarmed the West, The Hindu reported on Monday, quoting a British peer in London.

The revelation came from Lord David Edward Lea, who first made the claim in the London Review of Books and later confirmed it to The Hindu correspondent in London Hasan Suroor.

In a letter to the editor in the latest issue of the London Review of Books (LRB), Lord Lea responded to the claim in a new book on British intelligence, Empire of Secrets: British intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire by Calder Walton, that the jury is still out on Britain’s role in Lumumba’s death. “The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know,” writes Walton.

Lord Lea retorted: “Actually, in this particular case, I can report that we do. It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park… She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’”

According to Lord Lea, she contended that if the West had not intervened, Lumumba would have handed over Congo’s — now called Democratic Republic of Congo — rich mineral deposits to the Russians.

When contacted by The Hindu, Lord Lea confirmed the contents of his letter to the LRB and that the conversation over tea took place a few months before Ms Park died in 2010.

“That’s the conversation I had with her and that’s what she told me. I have nothing more to add,” he said when asked if he had any other independent confirmation of Ms Park’s claim.

Ms Park was a career intelligence officer who served in Kinshasa  (then Leopoldville) between 1959 and 1961, The Hindu said. On retirement, she was made a ‘Life Peer’ as Baroness Park of Monmouth. Her fellow peers in the House of Lords referred to her as a spokesperson for the Secret Intelligence Service. She was also briefly head of Somerville College, Oxford University.

There has been no comment from MI6 on Lord Lea’s revelation. “We don’t comment on intelligence matters,” an official said.

Lumumba, hailed as “the hero of Congolese independence” from Belgium in 1960, was shot dead on Jan 17, 1961 after being toppled in a US-Belgian backed military coup barely two months after being in office.

Lumumba had been sheltered by Rajeshwar Dayal — the Indian diplomat who was the UN Secretary General’s representative in the Congo — for several days but was captured and killed soon after he chose to leave the compound.

“This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed,” wrote Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a specialist on African and Afro-American studies and author of The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History.

Declassified American documents from the time have established Washington’s role in covert assassination plots — the most famous being a CIA plot to poison Lumumba’s toothbrush by smuggling poisoned toothpaste into his bathroom, The Hindu report said.“The toothpaste never made it into Lumumba’s bathroom. I threw it in the Congo River,” Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief in Leopoldville, later said.

Not much is publicly known about UK's role. But, in 2000, the BBC reported that in the autumn of 1960 — three months before Lumumba was murdered — an MI5 operative in the British embassy in Leopoldville suggested “Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him.”