December 15, 2009 / 9:17 AM / 9 years ago

Eritrea football team "hiding" in Kenya - official

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Twelve members of the Eritrean national football squad have disappeared in Kenya after competing in a regional tournament, officials said on Tuesday.

Eritrea is notorious for the high number of its nationals who flee or attempt to flee the country every year.

The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands fled Eritrea in 2009, where analysts say a culture of mandatory national service has disaffected a generation of young people.

Nicholas Musonye, general secretary of regional soccer body CECAFA, told Reuters that the Kenyan tour guide attached to the squad had told officials the 12 went missing after their team was eliminated by Tanzania in the quarter finals.

“The tour guide waited for them in vain at the airport on Saturday when the team was (due to travel) back home,” he said, adding that the president of Eritrea’s football association, Tesfaye Gebreyessus, had confirmed the team did not return.

“We think they are hiding somewhere with the intention of going somewhere, or just intending to remain here,” Musonye said. “We have alerted the authorities to help track them down.”

Eritrea, despite its small population of around 5 million, still manages to create one of the highest numbers of refugees of any country in the world not at war.

In a Reuters interview in October, President Isaias Afwerki said the thousands fleeing were simply “going for a picnic.”

Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Editing by Daniel Wallis and Giles Elgood

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