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Eritrean Soccer Team Members Missing in Uganda After Tournament

At least 18 members of Eritrea’s national soccer team have gone missing in Uganda after being eliminated from a regional tournament, the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations said.

The players had traveled to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to participate in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. Seventeen footballers and the team physician disappeared after failing to qualify beyond the group stages of the competition, Nicola Musonye, secretary-general of the association, said in a phone interview yesterday from the city.

The 25-member team went shopping in Kampala on Dec. 2 and most failed to return to their hotel, Sylvia Nakamya, the manager of Sky Hotel International, said in a phone interview.

Eritrea has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki, a former rebel leader, since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The Horn of Africa nation has no privately owned press and the government has arbitrarily detained thousands of people including opposition supporters and journalists over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, the London-based advocacy group.

At least four Eritreans sought asylum in the U.K. after this year’s Olympic Games, according to United Press International, the Washington-based news agency. Last year, 13 Eritrean footballers had their application for political asylum rejected by Tanzania’s government, after they refused to return home following a regional tournament in July.

Amnesty in August urged Sudan to halt the deportation of asylum seekers from Eritrea because they face detention and torture by the Eritrean authorities.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting to topple the government of Somalia. The government denies the allegations.

Two calls each to Eritrea’s Information Ministry in the capital, Asmara, and to the Eritrean Embassy in Kampala seeking comment weren’t answered. The ministry didn’t immediately respond to two e-mailed requests for comment.

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