AFCON2015: Eritrea withdraws from 2015 African Cup of Nations

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Eritrea has pulled out of the qualifiers for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, the Confederation of African Football has announced.caf

No reason has been given for the withdrawal but it is widely believed the decision has been influenced by a raft of defections by Eritrean players attending competitions in recent years.

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.

At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Eritrean flagbearer Weynay Ghebresilasie was one of four athletes from a delegation of 12 who left the team base and sought political asylum in Britain.

The defections are down to the alleged human rights abuses and political censorship imposed by the Eritrean Government, which has been led by President Isaias Afewerki since the country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

According to a United Nations report last year, up to 3,000 Eritreans flee the East African country every month amid continuing conflict between groups loyal to Afewerki and those in opposition.

The Eritrean football squad had been due to face South Sudan – entering the competition for the first time – in the first round of the preliminary phase over two legs next month.

South Sudan will now go through to the second round preliminary phase.

The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled to take place in Morocco from January 17 to February 7.