Missing Cameroon athletes could be 'seeking greener pastures': official

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Five boxers and three weightlifters from the Cameroon Commonwealth Games team have disappeared, with officials notifying Australian police.

A Cameroon official has said the eight athletes who vanished from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games athletes' village may have been "seeking greener pastures".

Cameroon's press attache Simon Molombe Lyonga told SBS News he couldn't "pretend to know their intention" for deserting, but said: "As we might say in Africa, they've gone for greener pastures in Australia."

He said the missing athletes were part of a team Whatsapp group, but only one of them got in touch because she had left behind her credit card and money.

Mr Lyonga called on the athletes to re-join the team, saying that they would not face consequences in Cameroon.

"There is no law in the country that says if you flee and you come back, you will be punished," he told SBS News, adding he didn't know the whereabouts of the missing competitors.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cameroon's Chef de Mission, Victor Agbor Nso, said five boxers and three weightlifters vanished from their rooms "in three waves". The first three left on April 8, two more on April 9, and three last night.

Mr Nso said the team's officials and remaining athletes, including basketball players and two weightlifters, have already left Australia. Cameroon brought 42 athletes to the Gold Coast Games.

The missing boxers are Simplice Fotsala, Arsene Fokou, Christian Ndzie Tchoyi, Ulrich Yombo, and Christelle Ndiang. The missing weightlifters are Olivier Heracies Matam Matam, Petite David Minkoumba, and Arcangeline Sonkbou Fouodji.

File image of Cameroon's Simplice Fotsala
File image of Cameroon's Simplice Fotsala
AAP

Minkoumba Petit David of Cameroon competes during Men's 94kg final of Weightlifting on day four of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Minkoumba Petit David of Cameroon competes during Men's 94kg final of Weightlifting on day four of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Getty Images

Mr Nso said officials have informed Australian police and state officials in Cameroon.

He also said that all eight athletes prepared in Warwick in central Queensland prior to the Games, but only six of them took part in their respective competitions, while two left without competing.

Authorities have held talks with local African community leaders, who say they have not had any contact from the missing athletes. 

“We wouldn't be surprised that they would be seeking Australian protection, given the situation in Cameroon where the minority English speaking Cameroonians are persecuted at the moment,” said Robert Mukombozi, president of the Queensland African Communities Council. 

Commonwealth Games chairman Peter Beattie earlier told reporters he was not surprised that some athletes had gone missing, but they hadn't breached their visas.

"It happens at every Games and it’s not a surprise. There is a mechanism in place, they haven’t breached their visas, but it is a manner for their own Commonwealth Games association to monitor and no doubt they will," Mr Beattie said.

“If there is a breach Peter Dutton and the department will deal with it.”

Commonwealth Games Federation chief David Grevemberg said team Cameroon is taking the safety and the welfare of its athletes very seriously.

"Right now we are worried about safety and welfare of the athletes and we are taking this very seriously and monitoring the situation with team Cameroon," Mr Grevemberg said. 

"I think it's also important to remember that these athletes are guests here in Australia at this time, they're still within their visas, they have the right to travel freely."

File: Cameroon's Arsene Fokou Fosso compete during their Baku 2017 4th Islamic Solidarity Games
File: Cameroon's Arsene Fokou Fosso compete during their Baku 2017 4th Islamic Solidarity Games
Getty Images

This is not the first time Cameroon athletes have been reported missing from an international event.

Seven athletes from Cameroon team were reported missing from the 2012 London Olympic Games.

An Australian Border Force spokesperson told SBS News the Department does not comment on individual cases, but visitors to Australia are free to enjoy their stay as long as they meet their visa requirements. 

In February Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton warned games visitors including athletes and officials, must abide by their visa conditions or else face consequence under Australian law.  

Anyone in Australia on a valid visa is legally entitled to claim asylum, but if that is what the Cameroon athletes are planning to do is unknown. 

Matam Matam Olivier Heracles of Cameroon competes during the Weightlifting Men's 62kg Final at the Commonwealth Games
Matam Matam Olivier Heracles of Cameroon competes during the Weightlifting Men's 62kg Final at the Commonwealth Games
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