(Reuters) - Eritrea, who have a history of players defecting when on international duty, have withdrawn from the African Nations Cup qualifiers, the Confederation of African Football said on Sunday.
They were due to play newcomers South Sudan in one of two preliminary round fixtures in April. South Sudan now proceed to the next qualifying round in Mauritius.
Seventeen players from the Eritrean squad, plus the team doctor, absconded at the 2012 East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup in Uganda.
In 2011, 13 Eritrean players sought asylum in Tanzania after the same tournament, while 12 members of the Eritrea squad disappeared and sought asylum in Kenya during the regional tournament in 2009.
Four Eritrean athletes also left their base and sought political asylum in Britain after the London Olympics in 2012.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 Eritreans flee the small east African country every month, a United Nations report said last year.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Davis