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On the morning of June 13th, 2023, the Belgian Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Stefaan Thijs, hosted an intimate ceremony at the Embassy of Belgium in Addis Ababa in the presence of Mr. Leon de Turck, President of the National Federation of War Veterans of Belgium, the Honourable Lij Daniel Jote Mesfin, President of the Ethiopian Patriots Association, and H.E. Mr. Jean-Léon Ngandu-Ilunga, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to unveil a plaque commemorating the Belgian Colonial Troops who fell during the 1941 Abyssinian Campaign.

In January 1940, King Leopold III created the “Belgian Contingent in Sudan” and after capitulating the Belgian Army to Nazi Germany on May 28th, 1940, he envisioned an alternative strategy for the Force Publique to take revenge on the Axis. In the beginning of February 1941, the Belgian Contingent started its advance of more than 1000km to Abyssinia, where they collaborated with the British Commonwealth Forces to help Ethiopia in the fight against fascism and strike at Germany’s partner, Italy. On March 11th, 1941, the Belgian Contingent, consisting of Congolese and Belgian troops, reached Asosa without any resistance from Italian troops who had fled due to horror propaganda of the cannibalism of the Belgian Colonial Troops.

By March 22nd, 1941, the Belgian Contingent had their first real confrontation with Italian troops and succeeded in capturing Gambella within a day. After the capture of Gambella, the Belgian Contingent faced heavy fighting along the Bortaï (now known as Baro) river, where Italian troops were superior in numbers. By June 1941, the Belgian Contingent had progressed to Saïo (now known as Dembi Dolo) and advanced with their attack on July 1st, 1941. Despite great Italian superiority, Italian troops capitulated two days later.

The Force Publique suffered heavy losses in Abyssinia: 4 Belgian soldiers were killed and 6 seriously wounded; 42 Congolese troops were killed in action and 5 were missing in action; 193 died due to diseases or injuries; another 274 military porters died from exhaustion or dysentery.

Mr. Leon de Turck, President of the National Federation of War Veterans of Belgium, explained that commemorative ceremonies should not be limited to large-scale wars, but to honour all soldiers who laid their lives as an effort for peace. As such, Mr. Leon de Turck presented the Ambassador of Belgium and the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo with a Freedom Dove to promote the idea of peace. Furthermore, he awarded the Ambassador of Belgium, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and President of the Ethiopian Patriots Association a Medal of Honour and a Medal of Peace each.

The Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo expressed his gratitude and appreciation for mutual support between Congolese and Ethiopians, highlighting solidarity shown by Congolese during Abyssinian campaign and support provided by Ethiopians in 1962 to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the framework of the UNOC peacekeeping mission. Furthermore, he added that three roads in Kinshasa have been named after battlegrounds where the Belgian Contingent made of Belgian and Congolese soldiers fought victoriously namely : Asosa, Gambela and Saïo. Notably, the Honourable Lij Daniel Jote Mesfin stated that this history is not shared in Ethiopian history books because intellectuals who knew this history were killed when the Derg communist regime came to power and efforts need to be made to correct this oversight.

The Embassy of Belgium was honoured to receive distinguished guests and Arbegna’s from Ethiopian Patriot Association to shed light on such important history of solidarity. This commemorative plaque exists to ensure that this history is no longer forgotten and those who laid their lives down for freedom from fascism are honoured.

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