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Arrest warrants issued on missing Lankan 'handball team'

AUGSBURG, Germany, Friday (AFP) -

German authorities said Friday they have issued arrest warrants for a group of Sri Lankans calling themselves the national handball team, nearly two weeks after they vanished in the country.

The chief prosecutor in the southern city of Augsburg, Thomas Weith, said the 23 men had had their visas revoked by the German embassy in Colombo for making "false claims" on their application forms.

The group is now facing charges of violating German immigration law after disappearing in the southern town of Wittislingen during a handball tournament there earlier this month.

The men had raised eyebrows at the competition for their inability to play the sport and after losing match after match, suddenly cut and ran, leaving behind clothing and shoes in the music hall where they were staying.

The mass-market Bild newspaper reported Friday that the "team" had left behind a note saying: "We love Germany. Thanks for all."

Last week the Sri Lankan sports ministry secretary Sugath Ranugge said the cricket-crazy country had no national handball team and warned that the group appeared to have tricked the organizers from the start.

He said the authorities had no idea where the Sri Lankans might be but suspected they might be illegal immigrants on their way to France. A German who coached the team for three months in Sri Lanka ahead of the tournament, Bjoern Rupprecht, said the group had shown little discipline, often showing up to practice in flip-flops or barefoot.

"The guys had no idea about the game or its rules," he told Bild. He said they had paid for their flights to Germany themselves and that he could not blame them for trying to emigrate.

"They were nice guys. They only want a better life," he said.

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