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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK
Sierra Leone players disappear
Members of Sierra Leone's Under-17 team
Some of the players are in Helsinki
Three of the 12 Sierra Leone footballers who stayed behind after competing in the World U-17 Championship in Finland have applied for political asylum.

The Sierra Leone team - knocked out in the group stages of the tournament - left the Nordic country without the 12 players and two officials after they failed to turn up at the airport.

Only 14 members of the 28-man squad showed up for Thursday's flight back to Freetown.

Three people have been found in Helsinki
Police spokesman Aimo Ojanen

Police in the southern Finnish city of Lahti, where the squad had been based, said some of the missing players were now in the capital, Helsinki.

"Three people have been found in Helsinki and the police know about them," said police spokesman Aimo Ojanen.

Mr Ojanen also said that three other members of the team were spotted in the capital on Thursday but their exact location is still unknown.

He said the missing players did not have passports on them as they were held by the squad's officials, who flew back to Sierra Leone. They also carried only a small amount of cash.

But the Finnish authorities declined to comment further on the asylum applications, saying all such issues were handled in secrecy.

"In a normal case we talk to the applicants and the process could easily take months," an official said.

Finland has one of the strictest immigration policies in Europe, with the majority of asylum applications being rejected.

A spokesman for the Sierra Leone Football Association told the BBC that the players had disappeared after leaving the hotel in Lahti to make telephone calls.

"All of them went without passports. We went straight to the Finnish police, photocopied the passports and informed Fifa and the authorities concerned to help us catch them," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Sad end for Africa
20 Aug 03  |  African

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