365D.1163/8: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Ethiopia (Engert) to the Secretary of State

670. Legation’s 666 [665], December 2, 5 p.m.

Decree is dated November 27 but was not published. I have only seen unsigned carbon copy which had been given to Sudan Interior Mission by the Italian authorities on December 2.
Preamble speaks of “necessity of effecting in favor of the Governor General of Italian East Africa the requisitioning of the entire property of the said mission which may even indirectly serve” in the work of the leprosarium.
Article 1 states that all buildings whatsoever including residences of staff and mission headquarters at Akaki and Furi near Addis Ababa are requisitioned together with their entire contents, equipment, furniture, et cetera, excepting only personal belongings of the missionaries. Article 2 provides for a commission which is to make a list of the requisitioned properties and in consultation with the mission estimate its fair value.
There are at present 14 American citizens connected with the Sudan Interior Mission in Addis Ababa alone without counting those in the provinces. The leprosarium established by the American mission to lepers in New York is run by the Sudan Interior Mission on behalf of the American organization but is not otherwise connected with the Sudan Interior Mission. I understand that both properties are held under a 30 years lease.
When representatives of the mission requested the Italian authorities to postpone action until they had had time to communicate with their home offices they were told that the decree was now in force and that the Italian commission (see paragraph 3 above) would proceed with the appraisal of the properties even without the cooperation of the mission.
As I question the legality of the requisition of foreign property without the slightest pretext of military necessity I am informing the military authorities that pending instructions from my Government I reserve all rights on behalf of the American interests involved. I am also explaining to him the difference between the leprosarium and the Sudan Interior Mission. My British colleague is taking similar action on behalf of his nationals and interests.
I am given to understand that the American mission to lepers might be willing to cede the leprosarium to the Italian authorities. However, if that is the case I strongly urge that it be done without reference to the decree and only against full compensation. I feel that until we have recognized Italian sovereignty in Ethiopia we cannot consistently recognize the right of the political as distinguished from the military authorities to seize American property. For if we do in this instance I am perfectly certain Italian decrees will soon follow requisitioning the remaining American institutions and thus virtually expelling all American citizens. That American missionaries will eventually find it impossible to work under Italian rule seems more than likely, but it would be far more dignified if, when the proper time comes, our institutions closed their doors of their own accord instead of yielding to the crude pressure it might seem determined to apply.
  1. Telegram in two sections.