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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Italy to keep Ethiopian monument
Axum obelisk from Ethiopia Online website
The obelisk's return would fulfil a longstanding promise
An ancient Ethiopian monument taken by Dictator Benito Mussolini's occupying Italian troops more than 60 years ago has been declared Italian, casting doubt on whether it will be returned to Ethiopia as promised.

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

Italian official
An official from Italy's Culture Ministry, Vittorio Sgarbi, says the Obelisk of Axum has been in Italy for 73 years and has become naturalised and Italian.

"Returning the obelisk to Ethiopia would be inopportune," he said, because "at its age it would arrive broken".

The obelisk, which is estimated to be up to 3,000 years old, is a treasured relic of Ethiopia's past and the government has been trying to get it back for years.

Broken promises

The Italian news agency, ANSA, quoted Mr Sgarbi, who is an art critic, as saying that Italy should instead spend the money allotted for the moving of the obelisk to fix others still in Ethiopia,

Ethiopia map
Axum is considered the cradle of Ethiopian civilisation
The Italian Government has repeatedly promised to return the 24-metre (79-foot) granite monument, which weighs 160 tonnes.

But Ethiopia has remained unconvinced of the promises.

As recently as last month Italian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Guido La Tella reassured Ethiopians that Italy would keep its word.

Yemane Kidane, from Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the BBC that the Ethiopian people were tired of waiting for its return and accused the Italians of dragging their feet on the issue.

Obelisks in Axum
Obelisks dominate the Axum skyline, but Mussolini chose the tallest
"They promised to return the obelisk, which is a symbol of our culture and history, many times and we are still waiting," he said.

The Italians took the monument, in three pieces, in 1937, when Ethiopia was under Italian occupation.

But more than 60 years after it was looted, the obelisk still stands in Rome's Piazza di Porta Capena, near the Coliseum.

See also:

13 Jul 00 | Africa
Ancient Axum profits from peace
22 Jun 01 | Africa
No return for Ethiopian treasure
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