Syrian army defector to join 'Friends' in Paris

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Syrian army defector to join 'Friends' in Paris

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The Friends of Syria meeting that began in Paris this morning could have a surprise visitor.

Manaf Tlas, the Syrian army general reported to have defected is said to be on his way to the French capital.

That would cheer the 100-nation group which, given the continued absence of Russia and China, often appears to be nothing more than a talking shop.

And certainly the opening speech by French President François Hollande, demanding Syria’s Bashar al-Assad step down in favour of a transition government sounded familiar. The same words have been repeated by umpteen world leaders since the conflict began in March last year.

In an apparent plea to Moscow and Beijing, Hollande also warned the view that Assad’s regime was at least a protection against chaos was misguided.

Delegates held one minute’s silence in memory of victims of the bloodshed. According to opposition activists it is anger over civilian deaths that has prompted Tlas to switch sides.

He would be the closest member of Assad’s inner circle to switch sides. Tlas, who headed a unit of the elite Republican Guard, was a childhood friend of the president and the two men went to military school together.

According to Tlas’s family, the general escaped to Turkey and then left for France where his father lives.