Last updated: 12 March, 2012

Syrian former defence minister Tlass in France

Syrian regime stalwart and former defence minister Mustafa Tlass has arrived in Paris with one of his sons but they are not defecting, opposition representatives told AFP on Monday.

Tlass arrived in France from Syria with his businessman son Firas, the Paris-based opponents said. His other son Manaf, an officer in the Syrian regime’s military, is believed still to be in Damascus.

Mohamad al-Rashdan, member of the National Committee for Support of the Syrian Revolution, told AFP: “He has been in France for five days after having an argument with Assef Shawkat, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.”

Shawkat is the current deputy defence minister and husband of President Assad’s sister Bushra.

A source close to the Syrian community in exile told AFP: “Tlass and his son Firas arrived in Paris yesterday (Sunday). I don’t think this is a defection. He will be here awhile, but it is with the regime’s authorisation.”

Other Syrian regime opponents confirmed Tlass’s presence in France but denied reports that he was about to announce his defection or that he was meeting with opposition members.

A Sunni Muslim, Tlass was Syrian defence minister from 1972 to 2004, having befriended Bashar’s father and predecessor as Syrian president, Hafez, at military academy.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said he could not confirm Tlass’s presence.

“I have no information on this matter,” Valero said. “Apparently defections are on the increase within the Syrian regime.

“This regime has long lost legitimacy among the population and the Syrian elite. The apparent cohesion of the regime is the fruit of a policy of terror, which will not long succeed in stifling calls for freedom and dignity,” Valero added.

More than 8,500 people have died since March last year when Syrians first took to the streets demanding democratic reform and an end to Assad’s regime, according to figures by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.