The skulls of 24 Algerian anti-colonial soldiers, beheaded in the 1800s by French forces, were formally repatriated back to Algeria on Friday amid a renewed global discussion about the legacy of colonialism.
They were received from France in an elaborate ceremony attended by the President and senior army officials, with a 21-gun salute sounding as the military plane carrying the bodies landing in Algiers.
Army chief Said Chengiha said it was a special day for Algeria.
“The valiant resistance fighters who refused the colonisation of their country by imperial France were displayed immorally for decades, like vulgar objects of antiquity, without respect for their dignity, their memory,” he said in a speech.
“That is the monstrous face of colonisation,” he added. The coffins were draped with the Algerian flag and carried out of aircraft by soldiers.
The skulls will be laid to rest on Sunday on the 58th anniversary of Algerian independence from France. The French presidency said it was a gesture of friendship.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who bowed in front of each coffin, said on the Thursday that the the decapitated fighters "had been deprived of their natural and human right to be buried for more than 170 years".
He called them "heroes who confronted the brutal French occupation between 1838 and 1865".
The 24 soldiers fought French colonial forces who occupied Algeria in 1830 and took part in an 1849 revolt. After they were decapitated, their skulls were taken to France as trophies.
"The savage enemy decapitated them in reprisals before transferring their skulls overseas so that their graves would not become a symbol of the resistance," Mr Tebboune added.
Their repatriation follows the discovery of the skulls at a Paris museum in 2011 by an Algerian history who lobbied for their return.
French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in 2018 but bureaucratic obstacles delayed the return until now.