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Last updated: 20 June, 2011 - Published 13:12 GMT
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Lanka ex-soldiers continue protest in Iraq

Iraqi officials visiting Sri Lankans workers in Al-Amara on Sunday
Iraq health minister has pledged to resolve the issue within days
A group of former Sri Lankan soldiers in Iraq have decided to continue their week old hunger strike despite an appeal from Iraqi authorities.

28 retired Sri Lanka soldiers launched their protest on 13 June seeking the intervention of Sri Lankan and Iraqi authorities to claim their unpaid wages.

Working in Al Amara, some 700km away from the capital Baghdad. They have not been paid for over 17 months.

Two other Sri Lankans, including their spokesman Lalith Kumara de Silva, are not taking part.

Four workers from India and Bangladesh also support the hunger strike but do not take part, the protesters say.

'International issue'

Iraqi Health Minister Dr Majeed Iqmoh who on Sunday visited the scene of protest has pledged to resolve the issue within the next ten days and urged them to give up the protest.

The minister has distributed food parcels for among the protesting workers, Lalith Kumara de Silva, told BBC Sinhala service.

Sri Lankan former soldiers in Iraq
The Sri Lankan workers say they are not paid their salaries for nearly two years

Protesters whose only intake for five days since 13 June was fluids, changed to one meal a day from Saturday following appeals from Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the province's governor.

Mr Maliki has ordered all the Sri Lankans to be paid their arrears, said Lalith Kumara de Silva.

Ten protesters, three in critical condition, were admitted to the hospital.

All of them, apart from one still in a critical condition, were later released and being treated by emergency health workers at the site of the protest.

"The minister said the protest is becoming an international issue and creating bad publicity for Iraq. As the temperature has gone up to 50 degrees, he said we will soon become very weak," de Silva told BBC Sandeshaya.

Sri Lankan authorities earlier told BBC that the workers will have to drop their demand for the missing payments, if Sri Lanka to offer them a helping hand.

"If workers are ready to drop the claim for the salaries, we can help them to come back to Sri Lanka," head of the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) Kingsley Ranawaka said.

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