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Assad issues general amnesty to army deserters

SYRIAN President Bashar al-Assad issued a general amnesty to army deserters yesterday in a bid to encourage refugees to return home.

In the seven years since Syria’s civil war began, significant numbers of Syrian Arab Army soldiers deserted, with the once significant Free Syrian Army rebel group — long since eclipsed by more extreme jihadist organisations and effectively moribund since 2012 — largely composed of defectors from the army.

The amnesty applies to deserters and people who dodged being drafted into the army, but will not apply to defectors who actually took up arms against Syrian troops. Deserters in Syria have four months to take advantage of the amnesty and those abroad six months.

Over five million Syrians have fled the brutal conflict and many more are internally displaced.

US-based Century Foundation think tank Syria expert Aron Lund said: “Conscription has been a major, major driver of exile” and that he could not “overestimate how important this is.”

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