Syrian authorities have moved hundreds of detainees held without charge into military detention centers to hide them from Arab League observers who arrived to insure the agreement with the Assad government - including the release of all political prisoners - is carried out.
"Syria has shown it will stop at nothing to undermine independent monitoring of its crackdown," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Syria's subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear lines regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told The Independent last week that the international monitors could move around the country "under the protection" of the government but would not be permitted to visit sensitive military sites.
HRW said it was told by a Syrian security officer in Homs that his prison director had ordered him to transfer about 400 to 600 detainees from his detention facility to other places.
"The transfers happened in installments," the official said, according to HRW. "Some detainees were moved in civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out," the official said, according to HRW.
He said that officials told him the detainees were being taken to a military missile factory in Zaidal, outside of Homs.
Other witnesses corroborated his account, HRW said.
The Syrian security officer also said the government has issued police identification cards to military officials, according to the human rights group. HRW said it has a document that appears to be from the Syrian Defense Ministry ordering the transfer of personnel from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police.
The problem is that the observers can't be everywhere at once while Assad's forces can concentrate and attack opposition strongholds. There were 39 deaths today in Homs, Hama and hot spots near the Lebanese border. And the number of detainees - thought to be in the tens of thousands - won't change very much as Assad will release only a fraction of actual detainees to attempt to do the minimum to satisfy the observers.