The usually reliable French newspaper "Le Monde" has published a remarkable, and disturbing, report. It states that the British Foreign Office, concerned lest the return of the Aksum obelisk to Ethiopia serve as a precedent for the restitution of loot taken by Britain, is pressurising the Italian Government, through the European Community, to postpone or prevent the stele's return to Aksum. Similar reports have appeared in the Italian press, notably in "L'Unita" and "La Reppublica"
In view of the publicity given to these reports they cannot be left to pass without comment. It should be pointed out that the return of the Aksum obelisk is from the legal point of view entirely different from that of other loot taken from the Third World. Putting aside moral considerations in relation to the Elgin Marbles, the Magdala manuscripts and the Benin bronzes (which we leave to the conscience for the British Foreign Office), we would point out that:
1) The return of the Aksum obelisk is obligatory on Italy as a result of Article 37 of the Italian Peace Treaty, signed with the United Nations in 1947. Britain was a co-signatory of that treaty.
2) The return of the obelisk has been agreed to by the Italian and Ethiopian Governments in a solemn agreement, signed this very year, stating that restitution will be effected within the current year 1997.
In view of the above facts it seems incredible that the British Foreign Office should have undertaken the action reported. We have written to our Member of Parliament for an assurance that no such dishonourable action has been taken place.
We trust that the British Embassy in Addis Ababa will also take steps to obtain, an issue, an immediate and categorical denial (which historians, in 30 years time, will of course be able to check with Foreign Office diplomatic papers).