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Friday, 19 July, 2002, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Italy to return Ethiopian obelisk
The monument was taken from Axum, an ancient town in Ethiopia, by Mussolini's forces more than 60 years ago.
Half-a-century of wrangling over the ancient monument

Italy says it is handing back an ancient monument to Ethiopia, from where it was plundered more than 60 years ago.

A statement said the government had decided to return the 2,000-year-old Axum obelisk at the request of the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

The obelisk, which is 24 metres tall and carved with geometrical motifs, now stands outside the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.

The obelisk was taken by Italian troops from the holy city of Axum in 1937, a time when Ethiopia was under Italian occupation.

Transport 'difficult'

In a recent visit to Rome, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, made an emotional appeal for the return of the 160-tonne obelisk.

And the Addis Ababa government has said it is prepared to do anything short of going to war to get back this icon of Ethiopian culture.

The obelisk, which now stands in Rome, was recently damaged by lightning
The obelisk was recently damaged by lightning

The grey granite obelisk was shipped to Rome in three parts, and experts here have said it is now in such fragile condition that it might not withstand the voyage home by sea in a container.

Earlier this year, lightening damaged the top of the monument, and a chunk of stone broke off and smashed on to the ground.

A former deputy minister of culture, and Italian art expert, Vittorio Sgarbi, recently refused permission for the return of the obelisk on the grounds that it was now impossible to transport it safely.

"I'm just waiting to see the obelisk disintegrate as soon as they try to chop it up to transport it back to Ethiopia," he said.

The obelisk has been a bone of contention between Italy and Ethiopia for half a century.

During the 1980s agreement was almost reached, but then war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea and plans were suspended as transport was considered unsafe.

See also:

20 Jul 01 | Africa
18 Jan 02 | Europe
13 Mar 02 | Europe
13 Jul 00 | Africa
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