Ethiopia despairs about obelisk

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia is "losing confidence" that the Italian government will return the historic Axum obelisk, looted in 1937 from the former Italian colony by invading troops under the dictator Benito Mussolini, the foreign minister has said here.

"Ethiopia is losing its confidence in the Italian government. ... We don't have any belief that the Italian government will return the obelisk in goodwill," Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said late on Wednesday on his return from the World Food Summit in Rome.

The 160-ton granite Axum obelisk, which dates from the third century BC, stands outside the Rome headquarters building of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), where it was damaged by lightning two weeks ago.

Seyoum and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi both attended the FAO-sponsored food summit in Rome, where Meles tried to organise a meeting with the Italian authorities to discuss the return of the obelisk, a bone of contention between the two countries since the end of World War II.

Obelisk 'humiliated'

"During my stay in Rome, I sought a meeting with the Italian government but it replied that this was impossible because of the large number of guests in Rome," the prime minister told the Italian news agency Ansa.

"It made me very sad to see the obelisk humiliated, tied up with rope," he said.

According to Seyoum, Rome's refusal to meet with Meles over the obelisk was a betrayal of trust.

"The relations between the two countries cannot be based on mutual trust hereafter," he said.

"The Italian government failed to give back the obelisk by producing various excuses," he added.

The Italian under-secretary of state for culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, last month agreed in principle that the renowned obelisk, damaged in a violent thunderstorm on May 27, should be returned to Ethiopia, dropping previous objections by Rome that moving the ancient monument could damage it.

55 years

"In 55 years, Italy has never said no, but always 'Yes, but,' to the subject of returning the obelisk," Meles said Wednesday.

"Today the government says it wants to restore it. But we're afraid this is just another excuse," he added.

"We just want to put an end to this story and turn over a new leaf. I feel more frustrated than angry," the prime minister said.

Italy lost what was then Abyssinia as its colony at the battle of Adua in 1896, where some 25$nbsp;000 Italian troops were defeated by around four times as many Abyssinian soldiers.

In 1936, in a prelude to World War II, fascist Italy annexed Ethiopia. - Sapa-AFP

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