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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 15:46 GMT
Return of Axum obelisk 'imminent'
Axum obelisk
The top section of the obelisk will be the first to arrive in Ethiopia
Ethiopia's government has said Italy is to return the first piece of a historic obelisk from Rome to its home in Axum by the end of March.

The move breaks a long deadlock over the return of a monument taken from the northern town of Axum in 1937, during Italy's brief occupation of Ethiopia.

The 160-tonne pillar has been broken into three pieces to ease transport.

The Ethiopian foreign ministry said the whole of the 1,700-year-old obelisk should be back by the end of April.

National celebration

Spokesman Solomon Abebe Tassema said the top section of the 24m (82 foot) block would be flown to Ethiopia by the end of March, with the lower pieces following afterwards.

The Italian government has agreed to pay 340m euros ($450m) to transport the obelisk by cargo plane to Ethiopia and reconstruct it at its original site in Axum, the Associated Press news agency says.

The Ethiopian authorities are thought to be planning a national celebration to mark its return.

The monument has been a bone of contention between the two countries for decades, with the Ethiopian government accusing Rome of stalling over its return.

In 1947, Italy signed a pledge to the UN to give back the obelisk - seized by Italian troops under Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini - but has not followed through until now.

Rome repeated its promise in 2004, during a visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to Italy.

Richard Pankhurst, an expert on Ethiopian history at Addis Ababa University, told AP: "We have been working on this for many years.

"But Italy still has not returned two major things - one is the national archives and the other is former Emperor Haile Selassie's pre-war airplane."

The obelisk will not return home entirely unscathed from its 70-year stay down the road from Rome's Coliseum.

As well as being cut into pieces, it has been damaged by pollution and a lightning strike in 2002.

Deadlock over Axum obelisk
14 Sep 04 |  Africa
UN urged to resolve Obelisk row
10 Jan 02 |  Africa

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