HL Deb 07 May 1906 vol 156 cc917-20

My Lords, I beg to ask the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is able to give the House any additional information in regard to the Turco-Egyptian frontier.


My Lords, I am in a position to give to your Lordships, who I know desire to have it as soon as possible, some further information with regard to the situation affecting the Turco-Egyptian frontier in continuation the statement which I made a few days ago. The British Ambassador at Constantinople presented a Note to the Porte on Thursday last inviting the Sultan to agree to the demarcation by Great Britain and Turkey of the line from El Rafah to the head of the Gulf of Akabah on the basis of the telegram from the Grand Vizier to the Khedive of April 8, 1892, and pending a settlement to withdraw his troops from Tabah.

I venture here to give a short summary of the negotiations which have taken place. Early in the year Egyptian troops were sent in the ordinary course to occupy certain posts in the interior of the Sinai peninsula, including Tabah on the western coast of the Gulf of Akabah. On arrival at the latter post it was found that 150 Turkish troops were already in occupation. His Majesty's Government protested against the occupation by the Turks of Tabah, a place unquestionably within the Sinai peninsula, and pointed out to the Porte that if any doubt existed as to the frontier line a joint Delimitation Commission was the best solution of the question. On February 13 Lord Cromer reported that the Turkish commandant at Akabah was demanding the withdrawal of the Egyptian troops from the Faroun Island, an island in the northern part of the Gulf of Akabah. His Majesty's Ship "Diana" was instructed to proceed to Faroun to protect the Egyptian post there.

After further representations the Sultan decided to send two officers from Constantinople to inquire into the matter, and they left for Egypt on February 20th. It was hoped the Turkish Commissioners would discuss the matter, or form part of a Joint Commission of Delimitation. The Turkish Commissioners, however, left Cairo and proceeded to Beirut without having communicated with the Egyptian Government, the Khedive, or Lord Cromer. On March 21st the Turkish Ambassador made a communication to the effect that as Tabah was a dependency of Akabah no objection could naturally be made to the presence there of Turkish troops, and that it was consequently unnecessary to send officials from Egypt to institute an inquiry into the question. The Sultan then authorised Mukhtar Pasha to negotiate with the Government of Egypt, and His Majesty's Government agreed to the negotiations taking place at Cairo.

Mukhtar Pasha had an interview with the Khedive, and demanded on behalf of his Government that the boundary of the Sinai peninsula should run from El Rafah to Suez and from Suez to Akabah. The Khedive, in reply to these representations, suggested that the telegram of April 8th, 1892, should be taken as the basis of a settlement, that the line should run from El Rafah to Akabah, joining the coast three miles west of Fort Akabah, and that the remainder of the line of frontier should be determined by competent surveyors. The Grand Vizier's reply to the Khedive was to the effect that the Gulf of Akabah and the Sinai peninsula were outside the territory defined in the Imperial Firman, that the telegram of April 8th, 1892, only referred to the western side of the Sinai peninsula, that the interpretation of that telegram was a matter which only concerned the Imperial Ottoman Government, that Akabah had been adopted as the headquarters of the Mutessariflek of Akabah, and the hope was expressed that no occasion would be afforded for interference by any other Power

The delay, the extent of the demands which have been put forward by the Porte, and the tone and character of the Turkish communications to the Khedive have made it impossible to defer a settlement indefinitely, and that is why we are now pressing our original demand for a joint delimitation. I think I may claim on behalf of His Majesty's Government that they have shown great patience and moderation; but the latest developments of the Turkish demands if admitted would place Turkey in a position which would be a real danger not only to the freedom of the Suez Canal, but also to the liberties of Egypt and of the Khedivial dynasty. His Majesty's Government cannot be indifferent to such issues, and the importance of them makes it necessary that we should press for a settlement on the lines of the frontier of Egypt as it has existed undisputed and undisturbed from a period many years previous to British occupation.

The Note to which I have referred was drawn up before the violation of Egyptian territory at El Rafah. I mentioned on Tuesday that His Majesty's Ship "Minerva" had been sent to El Arish to ascertain whether the boundary pillars at El Rafah had actually been disturbed, and I regret to say that the report of the removal of the pillars has been confirmed by the captain of the "Minerva"; but as the Grand Vizier informed Sir N. O'Connor that a Commission would be sent to replace the pillars had they been disturbed, it does not appear necessary to make any representation on the subject at present. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the prime determining cause of the occupation in 1882 was that the condition of unrest in that country threatened danger to the Suez Canal, and it is not to be supposed that, having thus intervened to protect the Canal from danger coming principally from the western side, we shall now, twenty-four years after those events, be indifferent to similar dangers arising on the eastern side of the waterway.