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Thant Reports on His Withdrawal of U.N. Forces; Admits Act is Being Questioned

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Secretary-General U Thant conceded to the General Assembly here today that more than a month after he ordered the United Nations Emergency Force to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Sharm el Sheikh, his action was still being widely questioned.

“Despite the explanations already given in the several reports on the subject which have been submitted to the General Assembly and to the Security Council,” he stated, “misunderstandings and what, I fear, are misrepresentations, persist in official as well as unofficial circles publicly and behind the scenes.”

That statement was part of his introduction to a lengthy report submitted by Mr. Thant to the Assembly’s emergency special session. He noted that a week ago he had promised a full report on the issue. That promise was made in his sharp answer to some brief remarks about the UNEF withdrawal made by Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Asserting that his report was only factual and was not an effort “to explain why there has been so much and such persistent and grossly mistaken judgment about the withdrawal of UNEF,” Mr. Thant stated:

“When, however, this tactic involves imputing responsibility for the unleashing of major hostilities, it is, and must be, a cause for sober concern. The objective of this report is to establish an authentic, factual record of actions and their causes. The report is intended to be neither a polemic nor an apologia. Its sole purpose is to present a factually accurate picture of what happened and why. It will serve well the interests of the United Nations, as well as of historical integrity, if this presentation of facts can help to dissipate some of the distortions of the record which, in some places, apparently have emanated from panic, emotion and political bias.”

REVEALS ISRAEL WANTED A VOICE ON NASSER’S REQUEST TO HAVE U.N.E.F. WITHDRAWN

Mr. Thant reported that Israel’s permanent representative, Ambassador Gideon Rafael, had conferred with him twice during the days just preceding the withdrawal order and before his departure for a conference with Egypt’s President Nasser in Cairo.

In one of these conferences, Mr. Thant reported, Ambassador Rafael “gave his Government’s views on the situation, emphasizing that the UNEF withdrawal should not be achieved by a unilateral United Arab Republic request alone and asserting Israel’s right to a voice in the matter.” Making no mention of his answer to that request by Mr. Rafael, Mr. Thant added only that, at the same conference, “the question of stationing UNEF on the Israel side of the line was raised by the Secretary-General and this was declared by the permanent representative of Israel to be entirely unacceptable to his Government.”

Prior to his departure for Cairo, Mr. Thant reported, he again received Mr. Rafael, who gave him a statement from the Israel Government concerning the withdrawal of UNEF “strongly urging the Secretary-General to avoid condoning any changes in the status quo pending the fullest and broadest international consultation.” Mr. Thant then noted that, while enroute to Cairo, during a stop in Paris, he had learned that “President Nasser had announced his intention to reinstitute the blockade against Israel in the Strait of Tiran.”

In other portions of the report, Mr. Thant noted that as far back as the Assembly’s emergency special session in 1957, Mrs. Golda Meir, then Israel’s Foreign Minister, expressed publicly her Government’s concern over freedom of passage through the Strait of Tiran in case Egypt should demand UNEF’s withdrawal from Sharm el Sheikh, Mr. Thant asserted that the effectiveness of UNEF at Sharm el Sheikh “had already vanished” before Egypt’s request for UNEF’s withdrawal was received here. He denied, however, that the decision to withdraw UNEF had “precipitated other consequences such as the reinstitution of the blockade against Israel in the Strait of Tiran.”

SAYS HE WAS NOT ASKED TO SEEK DECISION OF SECURITY COUNCIL ON THE ISSUE

Mr. Thant also dealt with the consultations he held with members of the UNEF advisory committee on withdrawal of the Force. He declared that not one of the members of the advisory committee had requested that the withdrawal issue should be taken either to the Security Council or the Assembly. The advisory committee consisted of representatives of the seven countries contributing military personnel to UNEF–Brazil, Canada, India, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

“As a practical matter.” and because the situation demanded urgent action, the Secretary-General maintained, neither the Council nor the Assembly could have acted promptly and decisively on the withdrawal. Mr. Thant stated several times in his report that an important issue regarding UNEF’s status throughout the 10 years of its existence was the fact that Israel had persistently refused UNEF troops on its side of the Armistice line.

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