Algeria to receive from France remains of 24 resistance fighters
President Abdelmedjid Tebboune told a military ceremony on Thursday that the skulls in question belong to resistance fighters killed in the 19th century fighting against France.
France occupied and ruled Algeria for 132 years until the North African country won independence in 1962 after an eight-year war that left some 1.5 million Algerians dead.
"Within a few hours Algerian military planes will fly in from France and land at the Houari Boumediene international airport with the remains of 24 (members) of the popular resistance," Tebboune said.
Tebboune said some of the remains belonged to resistance leaders and others to their comrades.
They are due to arrive in Algiers on Friday at 10:30 am from the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, where they had been kept.
Their arrival comes days before Algeria on Sunday celebrates the 58th anniversary of its independence.
In his speech, Tebboune said these resistance fighters "had been deprived of their natural and human right to be buried for more than 170 years".
He paid tribute to "these heroes who confronted the brutal French occupation between 1838 and 1865".
"The savage enemy decapitated them in reprisals before transferring their skulls overseas so that their graves would not become a symbol of the resistance," Tebboune added.
One of the leaders whose remains are to be returned is Sheikh Bouzian, a revolt leader who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated.
The skull of prominent resistance leader Mohammed Lamjad ben Abdelmalek, also known as "Cherif Boubaghla" (or the man with the mule), is among those expected back in Algeria.
Malika Rahal, a historian and expert on the country, welcomed the news.
"The martyrs are returning home," she said in a tweet.
"The body parts of those who fought the conquest of their country are returning home after a very long stay in cardboard boxes at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris."
The return of the remains comes after the murder of African American George Floyd in police custody in the United States sparked a worldwide debate on race relations and history.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to confront the legacy of slavery and colonialism and make amends for "centuries of violence and discrimination" through reparations.
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after Algeria's independence war, made his first official visit to the country in December 2017, announcing that he came as a "friend" despite France's historically prickly ties with its former colony.
At the time he told news website Tout sur l'Algerie that he was "ready" to see his country hand back the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters.
The same year, the Musee de l'Homme's anthropology director Bruno David said the remains were part of "anthropological collections" dating from the 19th century and linked to the "French conquest of Algeria".
The remains had long been seen as war trophies by French colonial officers.
Algeria had officially asked for their return in 2018, as well as requesting the handover of colonial archives.
Algerian and French academics have long campaigned for the return of the skulls.
Algerian historian Ali-Farid Belkadi was the first to call for their return in 2011 after undertaking research work at the French museum.
At the time, he said the skulls were kept in "vulgar cardboard boxes that resemble shoe boxes".
In December 2019, Macron said that "colonialism was a grave mistake" and called for turning the page on the past.
During his presidential election campaign, he had created a storm by calling France's colonisation of Algeria a "crime against humanity".
Agencies contributed to this report.