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Italy To Return Obelisk, Pledges Millions To Ethiopia

Panafrican News Agency, 20 December 2000

A senior official of the Italian government Wednesday said that the country would soon return to Ethiopia the Axum obelisk, which invading fascist forces of Benito Mussolini took to Rome from the ancient capital 63 years ago.

He also said Italy would donate 140 million US dollars for Ethiopia’s war reconstruction and development efforts in the next three years, now that the war is over and the country is committed to reconstruction and development.

Senator Reno Serri, Italian deputy foreign minister, made the disclosures before flying to Asmara, Eritrea, after a four-hour working visit in Addis Ababa, which included talks with prime minister Meles Zenawi and foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin.

Serri was a special representative of the European Union during the lengthy talks on resolving the Ethio-Eritrea border conflict which officially ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in Algiers, Algeria, 12 December, brokered by the OAU.

He arrived from Rome early Wednesday afternoon at the head of a high-level delegation of foreign and defence ministry officials for talks on matters of mutual concern, and in particular, how Italy could contribute to the implementation of the peace agreement.

He expressed satisfaction and appreciation of both the EU and Italy, for the comprehensive peace agreement reached by both parties. He described the accord as an important contribution to peace and stability of the region and the horn of Africa.

He stated that both the EU and Italy are now committed to contribute to the reconstruction and development of the two countries.

He said he was optimistic that both sides would strictly adhere to the agreement.

I’ve no doubt that Ethiopia will implement the agreement as the Prime Minister and the foreign minister had said, he added.

Serri pointed out that the other mission of his delegation was to discuss with Ethiopian officials bilateral and multilateral relations as well as co-operation, and to expedite Italian contribution to the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which is entrusted with monitoring the peace agreement.

Italy is contributing over 200 personnel to UNMEE, mainly air transport and air reconnaissance, military police and health units.

He said that the return of the obelisk, agreed upon earlier by the Italian government, was symbolic restitution.

He observed that the return of the obelisk at this time served to relaunch the existing bilateral relations and co-operation between the two countries and further strengthen them.

Seyoum said that discussions with the Italians also covered regional issues of mutual concern, including Somalia and Sudan, to which Italy is committed to contribute to help find peace.

He stated that Italy has now agreed to return the obelisk in the early weeks of next year.

Both Italy and Ethiopia are looking forward to celebrating the reinstitution of the obelisk to its right place in the coming weeks, he added.

The obelisk, the tallest among the then existing ones at Axum, was taken down and cut into three pieces in 1937 and shipped to Italy on the personal orders of Mussolini, a year after his forces invaded Ethiopia.

It now stands in front of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s headquarters in Rome opposite the Coliseum.