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Seven Sierra Leone athletes go missing-police

Written by: Staff
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MELBOURNE, Mar 23 (Reuters) Seven members of Sierra Leone's Commonwealth Games team have gone missing, bringing to nine the number of Games athletes unaccounted for, police said today.

Three members of the same Sierra Leone relay team failed to turn up for their event yesterday, while three other athletes and a weightlifter have also disappeared from the Games village, ''Six athletes and a weightlifter from Sierra Leone have gone missing,'' a police spokesman said.

''We'd be keen to find out where they are and make sure they are okay,'' he said.

Sierra Leone team officials would not identify the missing athletes but said their disappearance had cast a pall over the rest of the team.

''Obviously there is a feeling that it is not the nicest thing to do to the host country and your team mates to walk out,'' Sierra Leone team attache Robert Green told Australian Associated Press.

Australian media reported on Thursday that up to 70 per cent of Sierra Leone's team went missing during the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. In Melbourne, the former British colony has registered a team of 23 competitors.

Impoverished Sierra Leone was racked by a brutal civil war from 1991-2002 that cost thousands of lives.

Yesterday, Tanzanian boxer Omari Idd Kimweri and Bangladeshi 400 metres runner Mohammad Tawdihul Islam were reported missing, sparking fears they would try to remain in Australia illegally.

Australia's Immigration Department said it had no reason to become involved yet because all Commonwealth Games athletes are in Australia legally for another month under special Games visas which expire on April 26.

''Obviously we're concerned about them from a welfare point of view but at this stage they are still in the country lawfully,'' a department spokeswoman said.

Police have urged anyone with information about the missing athletes to contact them.

Five Bangladeshis went missing while at the Manchester Games, sparking a crackdown on athletes competing in overseas events.

REUTERS PM KP0946

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