Sri Lanka seeks release of ex-soldiers in Russia and Ukraine

Published On: May 30, 2024 10:14 PM NPT By: AFP/RSS

COLOMBO, May 30: Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said Thursday it is seeking the release of hundreds of its ex-soldiers fighting for Russia as well as around a dozen prisoners of war in Ukraine.

Sri Lanka opened an inquiry this month into illegal recruitment for the conflict, identifying 455 ex-soldiers who had gone to fight for Russia.

Colombo is sending a delegation to Russia in June to negotiate their discharge, including 37 wounded Sri Lankans, Tharaka Balasuriya, state minister for foreign affairs, told reporters.

Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began more than two years ago, according to an investigation by the BBC Russian Service and news outlet Mediazona, and Moscow has been on a global quest for more troops.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is also due to speak with his Ukrainian counterpart to plead for the release of "10 to 12 Sri Lankan POWs", Balasuriya added.

"We are trying to get them released," he said.

At least 16 Sri Lankans have been killed in Ukraine while fighting alongside Russian troops, parliament was told this month. "We want to stop Sri Lankans going to Russia and Ukraine," Balasuriya said alongside the Russian ambassador to Colombo.

Balasuriya said many had been duped into believing they would receive high salaries, land and the right to settle in Russia. Sri Lankan police have arrested two retired generals for illegally acting as recruiting agents for Russian mercenary firms.

Russian ambassador Levan S. Dzhagaryan, speaking alongside Balasuriya, said Moscow was investigating but declined to give details. "Why you are talking only about Russia?" he asked reporters. "Why don't you talk about Ukraine?"

Asked how many visas had been granted to Sri Lankans in recent months, Dzhagaryan said it "was a lot".

Soldiers from Sri Lanka's neighbors India and Nepal have also joined the fight, with several confirmed deaths. "If Sri Lankans are under threat and are in a dangerous situation, the duty of the government ... is to ensure that they are safely returned back," Balasuriya said.


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