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Date set for return of Obelisk? (22/11/04)

22 November 2004

Obelisk one step closer to Ethiopian home

Plundered by fascist Italy in 1937, one of Ethiopia's most cherished relics, the ancient obelisk of Axum, came one step closer to returning home after both countries agreed to resolve transportation problems.

The Foreign Ministry says in a statement that Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin has signed a deal with Deputy Foreign Minister Alfredo Mantica over the transfer of the 200 tonne granite column.

The deal aims to resolve remaining technical problems and end a decades-old feud over the obelisk of Axum and returning the cherished relic to the African state by the beginning of next year.

"The accord was written with the intention of returning the obelisk by the beginning of next year, before the rainy season starts," said an Italian Foreign Ministry official.

Italy agreed in 2002 to return the priceless artefact and dismantled it from its central Rome plinth, but logistical obstacles have delayed its transportation home.

Believed to be at least 2,000-years-old, the 24-metre obelisk was split into three and hauled off when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia almost 70 years ago.

Ethiopia has had to build a special airstrip to receive the relic, an important symbol of the dawn of Ethiopian civilisation.

A national holiday has been promised for the day it is finally returned home.

The foreign ministry says Italy has also agreed to extend $366.3 million in credits to pay for a hydroelectric project and confirmed that Italy would write off some $552.6 million of debt with Ethiopia as part of a broader, international pact.



From: Martin Plaut
Sent: 18 November 2004 12:34

Subject: Ethiopian prime minister says ancient obelisk will be returned by Italy next year

Ethiopian prime minister says ancient obelisk will be
returned by Italy next year Eds: UPDATES with comments from Ethiopian prime minister, TRIMS

ROME (AP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday that the Axum Obelisk, a 1,700-year-old monument hauled off almost four decades ago from Ethiopia by Italian fascist forces, would be back home by next year, an Italian news agency said.

Italian soldiers took the obelisk from the northern Ethiopian town of Axum in 1937 under orders from dictator Benito Mussolini. Its return will mark the end of an <irritating problem> and the beginning of a <new era> in the relations between the two countries, Meles was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

By next year (Ethiopia) will see the Axum obelisk again,> Meles reportedly said. However, no exact date has been set for the monument's return. Meles spoke during a visit to Rome, where he was to meet with his Italian counterpart, Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The visit, which ends Friday, also includes talks with Italy's President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The 24-meter (82-foot)-obelisk was brought to Rome in 1937 after the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia and kept near the Circus Maximus. Ethiopians consider the stone monument a prized symbol of the country's past and identity.

Italy agreed to send the monument back in 1998, but a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea put those plans on hold.

In 2003, the obelisk was badly damaged by a lightning-strike that smashed the top of the monument, causing stone pieces to crumble to the ground. By the end of last year, engineers had dismantled the obelisk and divided it into three sections, which are being kept in a warehouse near a Rome airport.

With each of section weighing 70 to 80 tons, officials had to find a plane strong enough to carry the monument and another 50 tons of machinery and casing. Italian officials also said that they had to wait for good weather in Ethiopia to make the return safe.


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