Three of four Ethiopian athletes missing after U.S. track meet located

Tue Jul 29, 2014 3:15pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Three Ethiopian athletes who came to the United States for a track meet in Oregon and then failed to fly home with their teammates have been located and are safe after disappearing in a possible asylum bid, local officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities were still trying to track down a fourth Ethiopian athlete, an 18-year-old woman, who also went missing after the meet and similarly failed to return home, police said. No foul play was suspected.

The four athletes were reported missing on Saturday from University of Oregon in Eugene, where they were competing in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Junior Championships.

Police launched a missing persons investigation, and three of the athletes were found staying with acquaintances on Monday in Beaverton, about 106 miles (170 km) away, said University of Oregon spokeswoman Julie Brown.

The runners have not revealed to investigators why they disappeared, according to Brown and university police, who led the investigation.

"If they choose to pursue asylum, that will now be between them and immigration authorities," said University or Oregon Police Department spokesman Kelly McIver.

Ethiopia is one of the world's poorest countries and has been accused by rights campaigners and the political opposition of stifling dissent and torturing political detainees.

The rest of the Ethiopian team left Eugene on Monday en route to their home country, McIver said. The athletes, three 18-year-old women and a 17-year-old boy, still had valid visas, he said.

More than 100 countries were represented in the World Junior Championships, which began last Tuesday and concluded on Sunday.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)

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