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CECAFA lifts ban on Eritrea after six years

Uganda’s Emmanuel Okwi (L) runs with the ball next to Eritrea’s Selemon Yonatan during a Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Cup football match in Nairobi, on December 2, 2013 in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 24 – Eritrea have been accepted back into the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA), after a six year ban due to tensions with Ethiopia and was handed the right to hold a youth tournament this year, the sub-confederation said on Thursday.

CECAFA secretary-general Nicholas Musonye said the one-party state would stage the region’s inaugural under-15 tournament from August 17 to September 1 in its capital, Asmara.

“Eritrea have confirmed that they are ready to host CECAFA, and acknowledged the importance of the tournament to the people of Eritrea, and the whole region,” Musonye said in a statement.

Eritrea last played in a CECAFA-organised tournament in Kenya in 2013, but were barred from the 2015 championships held in Ethiopia, due to political tensions between the two nations which fought a bloody war from 1998-2000.

However the two countries signed a peace deal in July last year, and ties have warmed under Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Musonye said the Ethiopian Football Federation had accepted to send its youth team to compete in the tournament.

Eritrea had also been blocked from other continental competitions as their players would regularly flee while abroad.

Eritreans are one of the world’s largest group of refugees, fleeing a repressive nation which restricts foreign travel and forces its citizens into indefinite military service.

In 2015 Botswana granted asylum to 10 Eritrean footballers who had refused to return home after a match against the national team.

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In 2012, 18 Eritrean players claimed asylum in Uganda after a match there. Another six fled while in Angola in 2007 and 12 more did the same in Kenya in 2009.

CECEFA brings together 13 countries in east and central Africa including Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda who have qualified for this year’s African Cup of Nations.

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