Lumumba murder: MI6 role 'a case of bragging'

Patrice Lumumba, the first elected Prime Minister of the Congo.  

Was it simply a case of a bit of “bragging” then? "Was the former MI6 boss, Daphne Park, dissembling" when she reportedly claimed that the British Government was behind the assassination of Patrice Lumumba , Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister, in 1961?

“We did…I organised it,’” Ms Park, who was head of MI6 in Congo at the time, was reported to have boasted to Labour peer David Edward Lea over a leisurely afternoon tea shortly before or death in 2010.

But now a counter-version has emerged with American journalist Caroline Alexander claiming that in an interview with her Ms Park insisted that it was the CIA who did it.

“I recall clearly her response when I asked who was responsible for his (Lumumba’s) death. She looked at me sharply and said, with an edge of anger (possibly directed at my ignorance): ‘The CIA, of course’,” writes Ms Alexander in a letter to the editor in the latest issue of the London Review of Books (LRB) pointedly recalling Ms Park’s remark that after her mother’s death she missed having someone to brag to a little".

It was also in the letters pages of LRB that Lord Lea revealed Ms Park’s claim about MI6’s role in Lumumba’s brutal murder. He was shot dead on January 17, 1961 after being toppled in a US Belgian backed military coup because of his pro-Moscow leanings.

Although rumours have swirled over allegations of British involvement in Lumumba’s murder nothing has ever been proved though 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.”

Ms Alexander writes: In 1988, I interviewed Daphne Park for the New Yorker (the profile appeared in the issue of 30 January 1989).

The interview was conducted over the course of several days, both in person and by telephone, and as time passed the tone became increasingly intimate. She once told me that one of the things she missed most when her mother died was having someone to brag to a little, and I felt that in some ways I fulfilled that function.

She discussed her posting in the Congo at length (Letter April 11and following). Her characterisation of Lumumba’s fate was that he had been ‘murdered’, an odd choice of words if she knew herself to be complicit. I recall clearly her response when I asked who was responsible for his death. She looked at me sharply and said, with an edge of anger (possibly directed at my ignorance): ‘The CIA, of course.’ Of the lack of any intervention on his behalf by the UN she

said: ‘The UN force had very curious ground rules concerning non-intervention, which caused me to become disillusioned with the United Nations for ever,’ adding later: ‘Lumumba himself, while at the height of his power, had been beating people up, kidnapping them in public, setting his thugs on people – all under the noses of the UN.’ She spoke of Lumumba’s erratic character and also, with distaste, of the fact that he had been tortured.

All that this proves, of course, is that Daphne Park, a master of inscrutability, may have said one thing to one person, and another thing to someone else. But if she were dissembling in our interview, she was indeed a brilliant actor."

Ms. Park was a career intelligence officer who served in Kinshasa (then Leopoldville) between 1959 and 1961. 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.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:26:56 PM |

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