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Exclusive - ‘Russian Guarantees’ in Southern Syria Encourage Military Defectors to Return to Regime

Exclusive - ‘Russian Guarantees’ in Southern Syria Encourage Military Defectors to Return to Regime

Tuesday, 5 February, 2019 - 08:45
Destruction in Syria's Daraa. (Reuters)
Daraa (southern Syria) – Riyad Zein
Russia has intervened in order to ensure the success of a settlement that would see the mass return of Syrian defectors to the country’s military, local sources said.

They told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moscow had provided “guarantees” that would see the defectors return to their assigned military unit before the deadline for a regime pardon expires.

The regime had issue the pardon for defectors in October 2018.

The mass return of deserters in southern Syria is being overseen by Russian forces.

The pardon did not specify whether the defectors will join the unit they were assigned to prior to their desertion.

This prompted officials in the regime-held southern region to coordinate with a number of Russian officers and Syrian military leaderships to provide guarantees that the deserters would not be persecuted for their actions.

They have been asked to compile the names of all defectors in the South ahead of referring them to the military judiciary in Damascus where they will be able to benefit from the pardon.

This explains the gatherings of defectors that have been witnessed in the South. Regime officials were also present in order to address their cases and promote guarantees that they will not be persecuted by security agencies.

Defectors in the city of Nawa in the western Daraa countryside have benefited from the pardon. The former defectors had their cases settled at the military judiciary, with some joining an assigned unit and others receiving a three-day leave of absence before joining the military.

One former defector from the Quneitra countryside said that he had recently enlisted after the October pardon was issued. He voluntarily turned himself over to the recruitment unit in his region and it referred him to the military police in the al-Qaboun district in Damascus. He was held there for ten days before appearing before the military judiciary where he received his official pardon.

He revealed that several defectors, who had turned themselves over, were present at the military police station in Damascus. Some of the deserters had come from areas that had never fallen from regime control during the war. Others were members of local popular and national defense factions that were armed by the regime during the early years of the conflict.

The former defector said that some deserters were subject to insults and beatings by the police, depending on the charges laid against them. News of such acts struck fear in a number of defectors and prompted the officials in the South to turn to the Russian police to provide guarantees over the deserters’ safety.

The reality is that many Syrian youth in the South found themselves in a difficult spot after the pardon was issued. They had the choice to either join the Fifth Brigade that is overseen by Russia and that is formed of former opposition factions or enlist in the Syrian military.

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