765.84/5187: Telegram

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

49. My 47, February 20, 11 a.m. I respectfully suggest that the Department telephone to Rome in the following sense:

This Legation has for 2 days been needlessly exposed to grave dangers from fire and stray shots due to the activities of the Italian military who have been setting fire to houses and have been shooting down natives in the immediate vicinity of our compound.
This first happened the night before last and although I immediately requested the authorities to take steps to prevent a recurrence, Italian soldiers brazenly informed employees of this Legation yesterday afternoon that the remaining houses adjoining our compound would be burnt that night. I again appealed in person twice to the Commandant of Carabinieri and once to the Chief of Cabinet who both assured me they would not permit it and that a guard would be sent to protect the Legation.
Despite these promises the burning of huts and shooting of natives close to the Legation were resumed after sunset and continued practically all night. Again if the wind had been stronger our buildings might well have caught fire. Not a single Italian soldier appeared either to prevent the fires or to stop them from spreading [Page 682] or to protect the Legation in any other manner. On the contrary we saw the Italians themselves set fire to the very houses which endangered ours.
It seems quite obvious that as all the highest officials are wounded, including the two just mentioned, the Black Shirts and armed laborers have run amuck and are unwilling to obey orders. (The French Minister tells me half a company of Italian regulars were powerless to prevent outrages in his Legation grounds because they were afraid to offend the Black Shirts.)
An inevitable and perfectly logical result of Italian administratorship has been that several hundred natives including women and children inhabiting the burning huts surrounding this Legation came into our compound. As they climbed over the fences during the night in order to save their lives I was of course powerless to stop them. However, even had I been able to keep them out I should not have done so because I felt that the most elementary dictates of humanity and decency required that they be permitted to seek refuge in the only place available to them. I merely insisted that they be unarmed. Most of them are relatives or friends of our servants and had been absolutely loyal to the Legation during the disturbances of last May. So far the Italians are hardly aware of their existence but should they request that they leave our compound I shall first demand a definite assurance from the authorities that they will not be hunted down like wild beasts.