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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Deadlock over Axum obelisk
Strained relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia could prove a stumbling block in the return of a massive 1,700-year-old Ethiopian carved stone pillar from Italy.

Axum obelisk
Ethiopia has appealed many times for the return of the monument
Charter company Air Foyle Heavylift, which rents out very large Antonov transport planes, told the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt that they had been approached to fly the obelisk home to Axum, but they had explained that, in its present form, it could not be carried safely.

It is in three pieces, but even so the largest piece weighs 60 tons, and they would not be able to balance the load properly to land on the relatively short runway.

The obelisk was looted from the ancient city of Axum in Ethiopia by Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, more than six decades ago.

No-one wants to damage the monument further by cutting it into smaller pieces and the cost of lengthening the runway at Axum, or upgrading the roads and strengthening the bridges so it could be transported from the capital Addis Ababa would be prohibitive.


The only other alternative seems to be to take the monument back by sea.

The obvious and easy solution would be to ship it back via Massawa port in Eritrea, which lies near Ethiopia's border, and was how it was transported out in the first place.

But the two countries have not been speaking to each other since a bitter border conflict and show little signs of doing so.

On Tuesday, a small demonstration took place outside the Italian Embassy in London, calling on Italy to fulfil its promise to return the historic Axum Obelisk to Ethiopia.

"It's been 60 years now and nothing's happened; it's about time it was delivered safely back to Axum," one protester told the BBC

But a diplomat told the BBC reporter that that there was a huge problem in shipping the monument through Massawa.

"Now we are not on talking terms with Eritreans," he said.

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