Brussels – The repatriation of the body of former Congolese Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi from Belgium to DR Congo was postponed at the last minute on Wednesday, an official source told AFP.
“It’s cancelled for today due to issues over the organisation of the flight,” the official said on condition of anonymity, with the 250 people planning to accompany the body left stranded at the Melsbroek military airport near Brussels.
Belgium had planned a military ceremony for the departure of the funeral party at the airport in the presence of the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders.
Tshisekedi, whose son Felix was this year sworn in as leader in the country’s first peaceful transition of power in decades, was being awaited in his home country for a ceremonial burial.
A source close to the family told AFP the flight would now depart at 1400 CET (1200 GMT) on Thursday from a private airport, also near Brussels, without providing further details.
Tshisekedi died in Brussels aged 84 in February 2017 but his body remained in the Belgian capital due to political tensions with the regime of ex-president Joseph Kabila.
His burial was expected to take place on June 1.
A veteran political campaigner, Etienne Tshisekedi spent decades in opposition but never reached the top job.
A critic of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, he co-founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in 1982 after a stint in prison.
In 1997, after Mobutu was ousted in a rebellion led by Kabila’s father Laurent, Tshisekedi quickly became an opponent of the new regime — a stance that continued after Laurent Kabila’s assassination in 2001 and his son’s rise to power.
Beaten in 2011 elections tainted by massive irregularities, Tshisekedi refused to recognise Kabila’s legitimacy to the very last.
Almost two years after his death, on January 24, his son Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president after elections that saw Kabila quit following 18 years in power.
The election however was marred by widespread allegations of rigging and the country’s politics remain overshadowed by Kabila, who amassed extensive clout during his time in charge.