Setback for Assad as army chief flees Syria
SYRIAN BRIGADIER-GENERAL Manaf Tlas yesterday became the first member of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle to defect since the uprising against the government began last year.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced the defection of Brig-Gen Tlas, formerly a commander in the elite Republican Guard, at a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris where it stiffened the resolve of those present.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that what she described as an increasing stream of defectors from the Syrian army showed the situation was shifting in the country. “If people like [Tlas], and like the generals and colonels and others who have recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet,” she said.
She also urged world powers to show Russia and China they would “pay a price” for impeding progress towards a democratic transition in Syria. Russia, which has strong links with the regime of Mr Assad, later rejected the criticism, terming it “incorrect”.
Brig-Gen Tlas is the son of former defence minister Mustapha Tlas and headed Brigade 105 in the Revolutionary Guard, according to the pro-government website Syria Steps.
“This will shake the regime to its bones,” Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East programme at the University of Oklahoma, said in an emailed response to questions. “Opposition groups have been complaining that the elite are not leaving the regime. That complaint can now officially be put to rest.”
Syria’s government is fighting a growing insurrection in which more than 10,000 people have died, according to United Nations estimates. At least 36 people were killed yesterday, the local co-ordination committees in Syria said.
Authorities have portrayed the unrest as a conspiracy and the protesters as radical Islamists. – (Bloomberg/Reuters)