Assad seeking political asylum in Latin America if forced to flee Syria (Haaretz, 05/12/2012)

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been looking into the possibility of claiming political asylum for himself, his family and his associates in Latin America, in case he is forced to flee Damascus.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad held meetings in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador over the past week, and brought with him classified personal letters from Assad to local leaders.

A source in the Venezuelan capital Caracas who spoke to Haaretz was not able to say what the response to the Syrian request was, but Venezuela’s foreign ministry confirmed to the El Universal newspaper that al-Miqdad did indeed bring a letter for President Hugo Chavez. Chavez received the letter just before he set out to Cuba last Wednesday to undergo further treatment for cancer.

All that the official spokesperson in Caracas could confirm was that Assad’s message touched on « the personal relationship between the two presidents, » and that the deputy foreign minister’s visit defines the close relationship between the two states.

Since the crisis in Syria began in March last year, Chavez has not hidden his support for the Assad regime. A number of times over the past year Venezuela has sent petrol and diesel fuel to Syria, so that the regime’s tanks and armored personnel carriers can continue to operate against what Chavez defines as terrorists. The Venezuelan leader’s close relationship with Iran, and his personal friendship with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, have turned him into a major player in efforts to save Assad.

Although the Syrian Ambassador in Venezuela, Ghassan Abbas, confirmed on Tuesday that al-Miqdad did hold talks with senior officials in Caracas, he claimed that he knows nothing about the content of Assad’s letter to Chavez. The deputy foreign minister had similar meetings last week in the Cuban capital, Havana, and the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

Ecuador’s has granted asylum recently to another controversial figure – Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. President Rafael Correa announced in August that Ecuador would grant political asylum to Assange, on the grounds that if he were sent to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault, his human rights might be violated.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hinted Wednesday that he would not favor an asylum deal for Assad as a way to end the country’s civil war.

Ban was asked Wednesday about the potential for such a deal. He refrained to comment directly on the matter but told The Associated Press that the United Nations doesn’t allow anyone « impunity. »

« Whoever commits [a] gross violation of human rights must be held accountable and should be brought to justice. This is a fundamental principle, » Ban said from the sidelines of UN climate talks in Qatar.

Assad vowed in an interview with Russia Today last month that he would never be forced into exile and that he would « live and die in Syria. »

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