The Chargé in Ethiopia (George) to the Secretary of State
[Received December 31.]
Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegram No. 21 of this date, concerning an apparent Italian advance into Ethiopian territory, and to submit the following details, secretly furnished me late last night by a most reliable information source.
An Anglo-Ethiopian boundary commission, accompanied by the usual armed Ethiopian escort, was working in the Ogaden Desert near the intersection of the Ethiopian, Italian (Somalia), and British (Somaliland) frontiers, when on November 23rd the party encountered an Italian military post at Walwal. Walwal is a prominent water-hole in the Ogaden Desert and is about a hundred kilometers within the Ethiopian frontier.[Page 766]
It appears that the Italians refused to allow the commission to pass beyond their lines, even to visit the water sources.
“Why did we not hear of it sooner?” I asked my informant.
“They’ve been corresponding all this time. The protests had to be referred to Italian headquarters by the radio of the post.”
“Then why is it suddenly so acute as to occasion an extraordinary cabinet meeting?”
“Because the boundary commission got its final answer yesterday.”
“What was it?” I insisted.
“A tank and airplane demonstration.”
“Is it a serious post?”
“Very. Permanent stone constructions.”
“Then how was it established without the Ethiopians’ knowledge?”
My informant hesitated a moment before replying “This will seem incredible to you. Shepherds of the neighborhood declared to members of the commission that the Italian work was reported to the Governor of Harrar when it was begun three years ago!”
The nominal Governor of Harrar is the Duke of Harrar, son of the Emperor, and until his fairly recent appointment to the post Harrar was reserved to the personal supervision of the Emperor himself. Actually, the province has been administered since 1930 by the Deputy Governor, Dejasmatch Gabre Mariam.
The Government in Addis Ababa professes surprise … Meanwhile the Ethiopian escort remains at Walwal, where it has entrenched itself opposite the Italian position. Against the nearly unanimous advice of his councillors, and on the ground that he would lose face in that part of the Empire by retiring, the Emperor declines to order the escort to withdraw.
Utmost gravity is attached to the incident in Ethiopian circles, and my informant remarked to me: “This may easily be the beginning of the end.” It is understood that a telegram of protest will be addressed to the League of Nations today, and that the Emperor is considering the advice of his councillors to place in the hands of each foreign diplomatic representative in Addis Ababa a copy of the report of the boundary commission in the occurrence, which bears the signatures of the British commissioners as well as those of the Ethiopians.
Sir Sidney Barton, British Minister here, is understood to be in possession of a copy of this document already, and to have indicated to the Ethiopian Government that the British do not intend to become involved in the matter. This is taken by the Emperor to mean that British support need not be expected.