Colombo and Moscow discuss the issue of Sri Lankans fighting alongside Russians in Ukraine

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka and Russia are starting talks Thursday to resolve the issue of Sri Lankans fighting alongside Russians in the war against Ukraine, after at least 16 people were reported missing in action.

Junior Foreign Minister Tharaka Balasuriya said that the Sri Lankans, mostly retired soldiers, had been duped into traveling to Russia with promises of good salaries and privileges including Russian citizenship.

“The situation in Russia is very unfortunate,” Balasuriya told reporters, adding that he is working with the defense ministry to ascertain the number of people fighting in Russia.

“We have received 455 complaints; we feel the number could be much higher.”

“They have been duped by certain nefarious agents, some of these people have been arrested. People who have left for Russia have been promised certain salaries and privileges including citizenship,” Balasuriya said.

The agents who recruited Sri Lankans had told them that they will not be used for fighting but there are now daily complaints that they are being sent to the war front in Ukraine, the minister said.

Russian ambassador to Sri Lanka Levan S. Dzhagaryan said that talks in Moscow will be the first step to resolve the issue.

“My president, my president Putin clarified many times that (if) any foreigner would like to voluntarily, I underline, voluntarily join Russian armed forces there is no objection, because look on the (other) side how many mercenaries are fighting for Ukraine, from different countries…” said Dzhagaryan.

Sri Lanka maintained a large army over the past 40 years because of a long civil war which ended in 2009. Every year thousands of soldiers retire from service.

An unprecedented economic crisis since 2022 has forced many people to seek jobs overseas and there have been widespread reports of human trafficking and cheating by fake job agents.

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