At least 14 members of the Eritrea soccer squad have disappeared in Uganda while playing in a regional tournament and may eventually claim asylum, Ugandan officials said.
Eritrea is one of the world's most secretive states ruled by a reclusive president. This year United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay accused the Asmara government of meting out summary executions, torture and detaining thousands of political prisoners.
In July last year 13 members of an Eritrean soccer club sought asylum in Tanzania while 12 members of the national squad disappeared in Kenya in 2009 after competing in a regional tournament.
Rodgers Mulindwa, a spokesman for the Federation of Ugandan Football Associations (FUFA), said the players had not been seen since early Sunday.
"It's true, some of the Eritrean players have disappeared. They've not been seen at their hotel since early yesterday and it's very unfortunate," Mulindwa said.
Police spokesman Ibn Sekundi put the number of missing squad members at 18 but said the team's management had informed them the players were simply "checking on relatives".
Eritrea were taking part in the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) competition. Eritrea last played on Friday, losing 2-0 to Rwanda.
Moses Watasa, from Uganda's Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which is responsible for processing asylum applications, said the Eritrean players had not made contact.
"As of now we haven't had any contact with them so we don't know their whereabouts, but it's possible they might want to seek asylum later," he said.