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Eritrean Olympian says relative kidnapped in Egypt's Sinai

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A relative of Zersenay Tadese, Eritrea's first-ever Olympic medallist, is being held captive in Egypt's Sinai by traffickers who are seeking a $44,000 ransom, the athlete said via Twitter on Saturday.

Since 2009, human traffickers have snatched thousands of Eritrean refugees from camps in eastern Sudan for ransom, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and bonded labor, while others are kidnapped in Egypt while trying to cross to Israel.

Security officials say the refugees are often captured by the Rashaida, an ethnic-Arab group in Sudan and Eritrea, and sold to Egyptian Bedouins from the Sinai Desert.

"I just received a call from a relative being held captive in the Sinai, we're being asked for 44,000 Dollars. I don't know what to do!" Zersenay said on his Twitter account.

He did not give details, or the name of the victim. The athlete was not immediately available for comment.

The long-distance athlete won bronze in the 10,000 meters at the Athens Olympics, the Red Sea state's first and only Olympic medal since it won independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

He has won gold at the World Cross Country Championship in 2007, and another four gold medals at the World Half Marathon Championships.

Thousands of Eritreans cross over to Sudan and Ethiopia every year to avoid conscription and lengthy service in the army, according to the United Nations. The refugees often aim to make their way to Europe or Israel.

Authorities in the capital Asmara were not reachable for comment.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; editing by Andrew Roche)

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