November 9, 2011 / 8:14 PM / 6 years ago

Syrian soldiers defecting in increasing numbers - UN

Syrian soldiers are seen at an army checkpoint in Hula, near Homs November 4, 2011.Handout

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An increasing number of Syrian soldiers are defecting to the opposition, raising the risk of a Libyan-style civil war in Syria, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday.

"Where basic human rights are trampled and peaceful demands for change met by brutal violence, people are eventually compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression," Pillay told the U.N. Security Council.

"It happened in Libya, it may happen in Syria," she said during a debate on protecting civilians in armed conflict. "More and more soldiers refuse to become complicit in international crimes and are changing sides. There is a serious risk of Syria descending into armed struggle."

Illustrating Pillay's point Syrian activists said that an armored government force stormed an area northwest of the city of Hama on Wednesday in pursuit of army defectors challenging President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Pillay reiterated U.N. estimates that "well over 3,500" people have been killed in Syria since anti-government demonstrations began in March.

"Tens of thousands of people, including doctors, nurses and wounded patients, have been arbitrarily arrested and many remain detained incommunicado, placing them at serious risk of torture," she said.

Syria agreed to an Arab League plan on Nov. 2, pledging to pull its military from restive cities, set political prisoners free and start talks with the opposition, which wants to remove Assad and introduce more democratic freedoms.

Pillay told the 15-nation Security Council she was "concerned that the killing of civilians has not stopped." She urged Damascus to allow a human rights monitoring mission to help ensure that Syria complies with the Arab League agreement.

Last month Russia and China joined forces to veto a European-drafted Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian government's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and threatened possible sanctions.

U.S. and European diplomats have repeatedly said that they are ready to submit a new draft resolution along similar lines as soon as Russia and China change their positions. But so far Moscow and Beijing remain adamantly opposed to the idea, Western diplomats say.

Editing by Eric Beech

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