Italy will return to Ethiopia the first piece of the ancient Axum obelisk by the end of March, a government spokesman said Tuesday, ending a dispute over the religious monument taken to Rome 70 years ago.
The top piece of the 1,700-year-old obelisk will be flown to Ethiopia, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Solomon Abebe.
"The obelisk has been cut into three pieces and the first piece will be returned at the end of March," he said. "The remaining pieces will be returned by the end of April."
In 1937, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered the seizure of the 82-foot obelisk from the religious city of Axum, some 530 miles north of the capital, Addis Ababa. The monument was erected in downtown Rome as a war prize from Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.
Italy has agreed to pay for the transport of the 160-ton obelisk by cargo plane and reconstruct it at its original site in Axum.
"We have been working on this for many years," said Richard Pankhurst, an expert on Ethiopian history at Addis Ababa University. "But Italy has still not returned two major things -- one is the national archives and the other is former Emperor Haile Sellasie's pre-war airplane."
Italy signed a pledge to the United Nations in 1947 to return all of the property plundered from Ethiopia, but has so far not followed through. The obelisk was damaged by lightning in 2003, when several large chunks at the top crashed to the ground.