Syrian force surround town after defections-residents

AMMAN Mon Aug 29, 2011 12:57am EDT

AMMAN Aug 29 (Reuters) - An armoured Syrian force surrounded a town north of Homs on Monday after the defection of tens of soldiers from the area, activists and residents said, in the latest operation to counter dissent within the military during a five month uprising.

At least 40 light tanks and armoured vehicles, and 20 buses full of troops and Military Intelligence, deployed at 5:30 a.m. at the highway entrance of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles)north of the city of Homs and began firing heavy machineguns at the town.

Rastan is traditionally a reservoir of recruits for the mostly Sunni rank-and-file army dominated by officers from Syria's Alawite minority sect, the same sect as President Bashar al-Assad. (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)

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