Eritrean soccer players who defected say they live in fear

PALERMO, Italy (AP) — Soccer gave Mewal Tesfai Yosief hope in an Orwellian nation, a job in a country of forced military conscription and, possibly, freedom at last.

He is one of four players with Eritrea's national under-20 soccer team who recently defected during a tournament in Uganda. They are the latest players to leave one of the world's most tightly controlled regimes.

Now they tell The Associated Press they are in hiding as they wait for word on their asylum claims.

They describe a system of forced military conscription that has led many young Eritreans to flee.

Eritrea's government is one of the most tightly controlled regimes in the world, ranked with North Korea and Syria by Freedom House.

Eritrean athletes, especially soccer players, have been known to defect while traveling abroad.