Defected general calls for rebuilding free Syria, rejects ‘criminal’ violence
Defected Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas called on Syrians to unite and look towards a post-revolutionary Syria, in a statement broadcast exclusively on Al Arabiya late Tuesday.
“I speak to you as a defected member of the Syrian army, who refuses criminal violence … I speak to you as one of the sons of Syria,” Tlas said, dressed in a light blue shirt with an open collar, his gray hair tussled.
The former general was believed to be speaking from Paris.
“Honorable Syrian army officers do not accept the criminal acts in Syria … Allow me to serve Syria after [President Bashar] al-Assad’s era.
“We must all unite to serve Syria and promote stability in the country, rebuilding a free and democratic Syria.”
“Allow me to call on a united Syria,” Tlas added.
Tlass said the “new Syria ... should not be built on revenge, exclusion or monopoly.”
He said he did not blame those troops who have not defected, adding that “whatever mistakes made by some members of the Syrian Arab Army ... those honorable troops who have not partaken in the killing ... are the extension of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army.”
It was his first public appearance since he left Syria earlier this month. French officials later confirmed that he was in France.
His long silence raised questions about whether he had joined the anti-Assad uprising or merely fled the civil war.
Tlass is the highest-level defector from the Syrian regime since the conflict started some 16 months ago.
He was a member of the elite Republican Guard and son of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, who served under Assad’s father.
Activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said earlier this week that more than 2,750 people have been killed in Syria so far this month, bringing the death toll since the conflict began to more than 19,000.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the defection of Tlas at a Friends of Syria meeting on July 6 in Paris.
His defection was hailed in Western capitals as a key setback for the regime while the opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council called it an “enormous blow” to Assad.
“Regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the defection. “Those who have the closest knowledge of Assad’s actions and crimes are moving away, and we think that’s a very promising development.”
Tlas is in Paris with his family and had so far refused to speak publically. French President Francois Hollande confirmed earlier in July his presence in the country.
Fabius later said that Paris was aware that Tlas was in talks with the Syrian opposition about a possible role in efforts to oust Assad.