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Manaf Tlas, powerful Syrian general, defects and flees to France: report

Brigadier General Manaf Tlas has defected from the Syrian army and is on his way to Paris in France, according to reports.

Manaf tlas syrian defector 6 7 2012Enlarge
Manaf Tlas with Bashar al-Assad in August 1999. The high-ranking officer has reportedly deserted from the Syrian army over President Assad's response to the country's uprising. (RAED QUTENA/AFP/Getty Images)

Manaf Tlas, a senior Syrian military commander, has defected and is making his way to France, reports say.

If it's true, the brigadier-general would be the highest-ranking officer to defect so far, according to the BBC.

Tlas was first reported to have defected yesterday, Reuters said, by both Syrian rebels and a pro-government news website. 

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Tlas is believed to have fled first to Turkey. At today's Friends of Syria meeting in Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that a high-ranking defector was headed to Paris, Agence France Presse reported, though he didn't mention Tlas by name.

The officer's father, Mustafa Tlas – Syria's former defense minister and close confidant of President Bashar al-Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad – is believed to reside in France, Reuters said.

The news agency describes Manaf Tlas as an "old friend" of Bashar al-Assad, with whom he attended military academy, and a prominent member of the Damascus elite.

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Sources close to Tlas told the BBC that in recent months, however, he had come to believe that Syria's leaders were "taking the country to hell."

He had reportedly been under partial house arrest since May 2011 after voicing opposition to the regime's handling of the crisis. One witness told Al Jazeera that security forces ransacked Tlas's property in Damascus after news of his departure broke.

While the opposition has hailed Tlas's reported defection as a significant blow to the regime, Syrian media is seeking to downplay it. 

"His desertion means nothing," pro-government website Syriasteps wrote, according to Al Jazeera's translation. "If Syrian intelligence had wanted to arrest him it would have."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120706/manaf-tlas-syrian-general-defects