Thant Aide Meets with Envoys from UN Observers’ Nations in Wake of Death at Canal

The most pressing question on the United Nations’ Middle East agenda–will Secretary-General U Thant seek to withdraw his observer corps at the Suez Canal-went unanswered today. That question has been asked in the wake of the death yesterday of a Swedish observer who, the UN says, was killed by an Israeli shell.

The first action taken by the Secretary-General, a UN spokesman said, was an informal meeting between one of his high Secretariat political aides and representatives of the seven nations whose troops constitute the observer mission. They conferred with Brian E. Urquhart, director of Mr. Thant’s office for political affairs, to discuss developments at the Canal following the death of Maj. B. Roland Plane.

The question of withdrawal of the 90-95 observers was not on today’s agenda but may be considered at a formal meeting planned later this week by Mr. Thant and representatives of the seven nations. Mr. Thant, who has been recuperating at his home from an operation, hopes to be in his office later this week.

Today’s session was also devoted to past suggestions made by the Secretary-General to insure the safety of the observers on both sides of the Canal. Mr. Thant warned July 7 that he might ask the Security Council to bring the observers home if they continued to come under fire from Israel and Egypt during cross-Canal fighting. Present at today’s meeting were Argentina, Austria, Chile, France. Sweden, Finland and Ireland.

Sweden has not signified any desire to have its contingent withdrawn since Maj. B. Roland Plane was killed at his observation post on the Canal’s west bank during an artillery duel near Port Tewfik. a UN spokesman said. it was also reported that an attempt has been made to strengthen the shelters housing the UN personnel on both sides of the 103-mile-long waterway, as requested by Mr. Thant. But another suggestion–that of establishing “safe perimeters”–has not been dealt with.

Mr. Thant sent condolences to the Swedish Government, and Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, chief of the observer team, has transmitted his condolences to the wife and two children of Maj. Plane who live in Cairo. Yosef Tekoah, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, sent a brief note to Mr. Thant expressing “profound grief and condolences.” He said that Maj. Plane died “in the cause of peace, in an endeavor devoted to the maintenance of the cease-fire essential for the establishment of lasting peace.” Mr. Thant himself has expressed regrets. The death of Maj. Plane was still under investigation, Lt. Gen. Bull said, and further details were to be reported.

LAST OBSERVER DEATH OCCURRED IN SYRIA JUST AFTER 1967 WAR

There are no UN observers on the Israel-Jordan or Israel-Syria cease-fire lines. A UN source recalled that another observer had been killed in Syria just after the Six-Day War in 1967. Maj. Plane’s death was the first at the Canal, although at least three observers have sustained injuries while on duty. Their injuries came from land mines and artillery duels. Several of the 20 observation posts have been severely damaged by fire.

In warning recently that the observers might have to be withdrawn, Mr. Thant said that “they cannot be expected to serve as what amounts to defenseless targets in a shooting gallery.” The military observers’ job is to keep track of daily Israel-Egyptian fighting and to report on it, as well as to make efforts to halt it. In addition to the seven nations now represented, Burmese officers have also been members of the UN force.

(In Washington, State Department spokesman Carl Bartch said the United States was prepared, along with other nations, to afford more protection to the observers.)

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