Britain is citing legal reasons for why it refuses to permanently return several sacred artifacts to Ethiopia.
Nearly a dozen sacred altar tabots or tablets were stolen from the East African nation back in 1868 during the Battle at the Maqdala where the British defeated Emperor Tewodros II. Now, they're kept in a locked vault of the British Museum and officials don't have plans to let them go.
"We believe that today the British Museum has a unique opportunity to build a lasting and meaningful bridge of friendship between the Britain and Ethiopia by handing the tabots back to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church," supporters wrote in a letter to the museum's trustees.
According to reports, Britain returned several items looted during the Battle of Maqdala to Ethiopia last month, but won't budge on the tabots which are used to consecrate churches and holy spaces. By tradition, the tabots are supposed to be kept out of public view and can only be looked at by priests.
Museum trustees have cited the British Museum Act of 1963 which prohibits the museum from permanently returning items. But advocates say the law allows removal of items "unfit to be retained" so long as they can be handed over "without detriment to the interests of students."
Advocates say that since the tabots are in the vault and have never been displayed in an exhibit –– not even in photographs posted to the museum's website –– the tabots have "no apparent use or relevance to the museum."
In a statement to The Guardian, the British Museum said it needs more time to review the documents to address the situation "with full consideration"
Several European nations have returned stolen items to African countries in recent years or announced plans to do so.