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Sierra Leone Athletes Seek Asylum

August 11, 2000

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Sixteen teen-age soccer players from Sierra Leone who disappeared from a tournament in Norway last week have requested asylum.

The last of the group, which has been trickling into a local police station, turned up Thursday, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported.

``All of them will be interviewed during the next three or four weeks,″ said Frode Forfang, spokesman for the Directorate of Immigration.

The boys will be allowed to stay in Oslo while their requests are processed during the fall. Forfang said no asylum-seekers from the war-ravaged and poverty-stricken West African nation have been deported in recent years. Sierra Leone _ one of the world’s poorest countries _ is undergoing a vicious civil war.

The 22-member Freetown Vikings team, along with their coach, was participating in the youth tournament of the Norway Cup in Oslo. Last Friday, the coach and 20 members disappeared. Some of the players later showed up and requested to go home while others asked for asylum.

On Tuesday, six members of the team, plus the coach, returned to Sierra Leone.

The Freetown Vikings team, made up mainly of orphans, was created by aid worker Svein-Arne Laukli, who works for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Freetown.

The seven-day tournament attracted 1,278 youth teams _ about 20,000 players _from around the world.

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