Five players with Eritrea’s under-20 national football squad have absconded in Uganda and have sought asylum, according to multiple reliable sources.
The players disappeared from their hotel and did not show up at their training ground, reports say.
The team travelled to Uganda to play in the regional Cecafa under-20 Challenge Cup tournament.
Human rights groups say thousands of Eritreans have fled the one-party state because of rights abuses and to avoid national service, which is compulsory and indefinite.
The chairman of the tournament’s organising committee, Aimable Habimana, said the five players went missing from their hotel in Jinja, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria, Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reports.
“We have decided to beef-up security around their hotel and the team so that we end the tournament on a good note,” he is quoted as saying.
Eritrea have been performing well at the tournament, making it through to the semi-final, where they will face Kenya.
When asked by officials about the absence of the players during a training session on Tuesday, Eritrea’s coach Haile Efrem Alemseghed said some of his players were sick, the Daily Monitor reports.
This is not the first time Eritrean footballers have absconded during tournaments.
In 2013, Uganda granted asylum to 15 players and the team doctor, who disappeared during the 2012 Cecafa Tusker Senior Challenge Cup.
In 2015, 10 players refused to return home after playing a World Cup qualifying match in Botswana.
And in 2013, nine members of the team and their coach disappeared in Kenya.