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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 13:58 GMT
UN urged to resolve Obelisk row
Axum obelisk from Ethiopia Online website
The obelisk's return would fulfil a longstanding promise
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian Government has asked the UN to intervene to ensure Italy returns one of its most famous monuments - the Obelisk of Axum.

Although Addis Ababa has repeatedly asked for the return of the 3,000 year old monument and previous agreements have been signed between Ethiopia and Italy, the Italians have so far failed to fulfill their obligations.

Anything that is here for 73 years has by now become naturalised and Italian

Italian deputy minister for Cultural Heritages, Vittorio Sgarbi

Ethiopia has now turned to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) asking them to help Ethiopia regain the obelisk, which now stands in central Rome.

The ancient Ethiopian monument was taken by the army of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini more than 60 years ago.

But Italy appears unwilling to part with the monument claiming it has become naturalised and Italian.


Recently Italy's Deputy Minister for Cultural Heritages, Vittorio Sgarbi, said that Italy could not give its consent for a monument well kept and restored, to be taken to what he called "a war zone" and left there with the risk of having it destroyed.

Ethiopia map
Axum is close to where Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war

The Italians looted the monument in 1937, when Ethiopia was under Italian occupation.

The 24-metre granite monument was shipped to Italy on the personal orders of Mussolini, whose forces had invaded Ethiopia a year earlier.

Rome initially pledged to return it in 1948. Again in 1997, Italy again promised after signing a bilateral agreement, specifying its return the same year.

In 2000 and 2001, Italy's former deputy foreign minister, Senator Rino Serri and Foreign ministry Under-secretary Alfredo Mantica renewed Italy's commitment to return the monument.

The time has come for Italy to come clear on its intentions, whether Ethiopia is going to get its Obelisk back or not at least this will indicate where everybody stands

Ethiopian government statement

But almost 65 years after it was looted, the obelisk still stands in Rome's Piazza di Porta Capena, near the Coliseum, fronting the office of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

The Ethiopian government says Italy's credibility is now "on the line".

Unesco's director general Koichiro Matsuura, confirms that Unesco has been asked to intervene, but says he wants to investigate the matter further before any decisions can be taken.

See also:

20 Jul 01 | Africa
Italy to keep Ethiopian monument
13 Jul 00 | Africa
Ancient Axum profits from peace
22 Jun 01 | Africa
No return for Ethiopian treasure
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