Britain returns Ethiopian historic treasuries to country

A sword looted by British troops who defeated an Ethiopian army 137 years ago has been returned, a leading scholar on Ethiopia says, adding that Britain is holding many more treasures it should hand over.

Tony Watts of Bapty Ltd., a theatrical props company in London, said the sword that had been in the family-owned firm for years but never used as a prop, said historian Richard Pankhurst, who returned to Ethiopia with it Friday.

Pankhurst said a common friend told Watts about the campaign to return looted Ethiopian artifacts, which prompted Watts to hand over the sword to Pankhurst. The family knew it was an Ethiopian sword, but were not sure of its significance.

Pankhurst said he identified it as a sword looted by British troops from Ethiopia over a century ago. The one-meter (three-foot) curved sword, valued at 5,000 British pounds (US$8,732; Ђ7,263), will be displayed at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in the capital, Addis Ababa, said Pankhurst, who last year was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to advance Ethiopian studies.

"This gesture should be repeated by the various museums and the Queen's library that are currently illegitimately holding priceless looted treasure from Maqdala," where the British troops annihilated the Ethiopian army in 1868, he said.

Pankhurst has been leading the campaign for the return of hundreds of sacred objects and artifacts looted by British troops from Ethiopia on the rampage after defeating the Ethiopian army at the Battle of Maqdala in 1868.

Among the most important items are a gold crown and chalice belonging to Emperor Tewodros II, some 350 manuscripts, 10 altar slabs, and religious crosses.

The items are currently held mainly at the British Library, the British Museum and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, as well as at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Britain's royal family holds six religious manuscripts said to be the finest examples of Ethiopian manuscripts anywhere in the world.

By far the most valuable item is one of two copies of the Kebra Negast _ or Glory of Kings _ Ethiopia's holy book held in the British Library.

The Ethiopian Church and government have been exerting diplomatic pressure on Britain to return the stolen items, which are cumulatively valued by Ethiopian campaigners at US$3 billion (Ђ2.5 billion).

Britain says the law only permits repatriation of such items through a vote in Parliament. However, campaigners argue they could be returned on permanent loan without a vote.