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Seven Eritrean cyclists flee to Ethiopia


October 19, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – In a latest sign of discontent with the regime in Eritrea, seven of the 14 higher division Eritrean cyclist team has fled to neighbouring Ethiopia.

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Eritrean cyclists express joy as they are finishing first and second places at Tour of Setif in Algeria, in August 2015 (Photo Madote)

The latest defection comes only few days after ten football players from the Eritrean national team sought political asylum in Botswana after they lost 3-1 to the host nation in a qualifier match for the 2018 World Cup.

According to Sources, the group of Eritrean cyclists managed flee to Ethiopia risking their life to cross the heavily patrolled borders of the country.

Up on arrival, the Eritrean team was welcomed by the local officials at Tigray region, bordering Eritrea, and are currently sheltered at Enda Abba Guna, a temporary refugee processing center, in the northern Ethiopia region.

The cyclists had bitter dispute with the Eritrean sports Authorities on a number of issues including on their repeated demands for the purchase of new bicycles and other necessary equipment in order for them to be competent.

However none of their demands were met which led for their decision to pullout from the national team which had competition in few days.

Angered by their decision Eritrean authorities threatened the cyclists to send them to a military training as a punishment which led for the team to defect.

There have been frequent mass defections by Eritrean sports persons in recent years mostly among football players of the national team.

Eritrean athletes often refuse to return home after international matches mainly to escape mandatory military service which is compulsory to every Eritrean aged 18 to 45.

The latest defections are said to be a big blow for one of the world’s most repressive country which is often referred by right groups as the North Korea of Africa.

The Red Sea nation has been accused by the UN of forcing its citizens to indefinite national military service and of killing won citizens trying to escape abroad under an imposed shot-to-kill policy.

Eritrea which has been led by President Isaias Afwerki since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 has never had elections and the ruling People’s Front for democracy and Justice (PFDJ) has never implemented constitution.

The government has become increasingly repressive and dictatorial with zero-tolerance for dissent. There are no opposition political opponents functioning in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has an estimated 10,000 political prisoners with most of them in jail without trial.

A report issued by the UN human rights Council in June, unveil systematic and widespread gross human rights violations in the country, including extra-judicial killings and torture.

According to the report by the UN body, some of the Human right violations in Eritrea may amount crimes against humanity.

The UN has ordered probe onto whether Eritrea was committing the alleged crimes against humanity, a crime which could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).


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