Middle East

Syrian officials work covertly against regime

GENEVA: Dissident Syrian diplomats and civil servants are covertly working from the inside to help opposition forces, a diplomat who recently defected from the regime told U.N. rights officials Thursday.

Danny al-Baaj, who went public with his opposition to the regime on Aug. 10, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that he had been part of a group of diplomats working against the regime from the inside.

They had set up a network of contacts supporting the opposition, “regardless of where they stand,” he said.

And while only seven Syrian diplomats had publicly defected so far, other officials, diplomats and civil servants, were covertly supporting the opposition in different ways, he said.

He gave few further details, saying he needed to ensure the safety of the people involved.

He said it was thanks to sympathetic officials that his parents had been able to leave Syria. The officials had turned a blind eye even though the authorities were searching for them, he added.

Once his family was safe, Baaj said, he felt free to speak out publicly.

The Swiss authorities have granted him and his family a permit to stay in the county.

Baaj, who defected earlier this month, said that when he arrived at the Syrian diplomatic mission to the U.N. in Geneva in August 2010, he believed in Assad and the government reforms that he had promised.

It was not long however, before his views changed. “It was clear to me that there was no serious intention by the government to do anything,” he said.

They had no intention either of stopping the killings and atrocities on the ground or of meeting the calls for reform, he added.

Baaj said he first made contact with members of the opposition in the autumn of 2011. He had been part of the Syrian Democratic Platform, an opposition group, from the beginning.

He acknowledged that Syria’s future depended on other countries and expressed hope that a vote on the issue at the next session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in September would produce a consensus.

However, he refused to back unilateral international intervention in the conflict, although he said that if the Security Council agreed on action, that would be a different matter.

“As a diplomat, I do believe that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria should be preserved,” he said.

He played down fears about sectarian violence and the danger of chaos if the Assad regime fell.

“The youth in Syria are not sectarian, the youth in Syria know what they want, as it happened in Tunisia, as it happened in Egypt, as it happened in Libya,” he said, referring to countries where recent uprisings have forced regime change.

“The moment the regime falls there will be no violence, there will be no chaos,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2012, on page 8.




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