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Amnesty in Wartime

Assad Pardons Former Syrian Militants

On several occasions since 2011, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has offered amnesty to anti-government militants who lay down their arms. Amnesties are usually offered to former combatants after a conflict ends, in Syria though they’re being granted as the war rages on. Men who haven’t completed their mandatory military service, are returned to the Army and serve in special “Amnestied groups” where they will fight with the government forces they once opposed.

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Each has his own story about how he came to be offered amnesty. Some joined the armed opposition voluntarily, others say they were kidnapped and forced to cooperate. Some used to serve in the army but went AWOL due to circumstances beyond their control and were classified as deserters. 

Several are concerned about relatives who are fighting with one of the many militant factions. With such diverse backgrounds, some of the soldiers find it hard to trust each other completely, not knowing what side their comrades-in-arms are really on or what they may have done in the past.

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What they all have in common is that they have been deeply affected by the war: they have lost homes and family members; and each one has a tragic story to tell. They all insist they are either victims or witnesses of war crimes but never the perpetrators. They sing patriotic songs and swear allegiance to Assad. 

Enlisting the amnestied remains controversial in Syria but the soldiers themselves say they’re happy to be given a second chance even if it means continuing to risk their lives in action, this time on the government’s side.

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