December 24, 2019 / 2:53 PM / a month ago

Eritrean soccer players go missing in Uganda again

KAMPALA, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Seven players from Eritrea’s national soccer team have gone missing after playing at a tournament in Uganda, an official said, the second time in two months its footballers have disappeared while touring the country.

There were no more details on where they had gone. But dozens of Eritrean athletes have refused to return home or disappeared while competing abroad over the past decade, often in a bid to claim asylum.

Thousands of Eritreans flee their small Horn of Africa country every year, citing political repression and lengthy military conscription.

The seven players appeared to have got round tight security at the hotel where they were staying on Monday evening, said Rogers Mulindwa, spokesman for the regional soccer association CECAFA that was running the tournament.

There was no immediate comment from the Eritrean government. The rest of the team returned home after losing 3-0 to Uganda in the final of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup.

In October, five Eritrean players disappeared from their hotel during another CECAFA tournament in Uganda.

In 2012, 14 members of the Eritrea soccer squad disappeared, again while playing in a CECAFA tournament in Uganda.

Eritrea has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Its population is around five million, and the United Nations estimated in late 2018 that a further 500,000 Eritreans were refugees. (Editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens)

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