BEIRUT — Syria's military, from foot soldiers to senior officers, should reconsider their support for President Bashar al-Assad, said the US ambassador to Syria, warning that those committing atrocities will be hunted down and prosecuted.
Robert Ford, who returned to Washington in February after rising insecurity forced the closure of the embassy, addressed an open message to the military in a posting on his Facebook page.
"The role of any nation?s military is to defend the country and to protect the people, not to harm them," he said, adding that the United States sees an "invaluable, integral role" for Syria's military to play in a future democratic country.
"Unfortunately, most of the Syrian military is acting as a leading destabilising force. The pictures we see of buildings destroyed by heavy artillery in Homs are just one example, with similar artillery used against residential districts in places like Douma outside Damascus."
Moreover, "certain key members" of the military have often played a leading role in Assad?s "campaign of torture and terror, including the attacks against Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and many other areas throughout Syria."
They have also "supported the shabiha?s (pro-government militia) massacres in the cities of Al-Haffe and Hula, by providing these armed thugs with instructions and artillery and mortar cover," Ford said.
"Their role in these attacks and massacres is abhorrent, runs counter to international law and to the ethics of military professionalism," and enables the regime to try to destroy any region that rejects Assad?s dictatorial rule.
Ford said the United States and global community "will work with the Syrian people to locate the military members responsible for this violence and hold them accountable. And we will support the future Syrian government?s efforts to bring those people to justice."
He added that, under international law, soldiers have a responsibility to uphold basic human rights and do not escape responsibility for violations simply because they are subject to orders.
Consequently, he said, members of the Syrian military "should reconsider their support for a regime that is losing the battle. The Assad regime cannot outlast the desire of Syrian people for a democratic state."
Officers and soldiers "have a choice to make," he said.
"Do they want to expose themselves to criminal prosecution by supporting the barbaric actions of the Assad regime ... or do they want to help secure the role of the professional military in a democratic Syria by supporting ... transition to an inclusive, tolerant and representative democracy that respects human rights and equal, fair treatment for all components of the Syrian nation?"
Ford referred to Washington's support for the international tribunal trying cases in the Balkan conflicts, saying "we stand ready to do the same in the case of Syria."
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