Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday welcomed recent reports that a high ranking Syrian military officer with close ties to Bashar Al Assad’s government has defected, and called on other members of Syria’s security forces to desert the regime.
Media reports indicate that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tias, who has reportedly been under house arrest since May 2011 for opposing the military crackdown on anti-government protesters, has fled to Turkey.
Clinton says a recent series of defection is a promising development, and shows that members of the army are increasingly trying to distance themselves from Assad’s crimes.
“These defections send a message to Assad, but perhaps more importantly, they send a message to the people who are still left, which I hope they hear and heed.” she told reporters after meeting with foreign ministers and opposition groups at the Friends of the Syrian People event in Paris.
Syrian opposition groups and human rights organizations say more than 16 000 people have been killed since violence first broke out 16 months ago, while Assad government officials claim the number is closer to 7 000, and that the majority of casualties have been members of government security forces. Reports have been difficult to verify independently, as the Syrian government has largely restricted access to the country and ongoing fighting has forced the UN mission to suspend observer patrols.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton Friday urged government and military officials who remain in Damascus to abandon the embattled president and help hasten Syria’s inevitable transition to a democratic future.
“Let me say to the soldiers and officials still supporting the Assad regime, the Syrian people will remember the choices you make in the coming days, and so will the world.” she said. “It is time to abandon the dictator, embrace your country men and women, and get on the right side of history.”