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Saturday, January 9, 2010
Togo wants apology from Angola

Associated Press

CABINDA, Angola -- Togo's government wants an apology from Angola and African Cup of Nations organizers for sending its soccer team into unruly Cabinda, where gunmen killed two team officials and the bus driver.

A day after Togo's bus was fired on with machine guns shortly after crossing from Congo into Angola, Togo government spokesman Pascal Bodjona said Saturday it was difficult to understand why Angolan authorities chose Cabinda to host African Cup matches when it knew "the area was a dangerous and risky zone."

Ivory Coast Soccer Team Escort
Police escort the Ivory Coast soccer team from its compound Saturday in Cabinda, Angola.

It was unclear whether Togo would remain in the tournament. Forward Thomas Dossevi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Saturday that the team would pull out of the competition and fly out of Angola early Sunday. But midfielder Alaixys Romao told L'Equipe on Sunday the team had decided to play.

"The entire delegation just met and, after all, we'll be on the pitch Monday to play against Ghana," Romao said in a story on the French sports daily's Web site.

Efforts by the AP to reach a tournament spokesman and Dossevi after L'Equipe's report were unsuccessful.

Speaking in the Togo capital Lome, Bodjona said Saturday nobody informed his country that it was hazardous to travel by road to Cabinda. He also demanded an apology from the Angola government and African Cup officials.

The ambush killed an assistant coach, a team spokesperson, and the Angolan bus driver, according to the team and Togo government. At least two players had gunshot wounds.

"People died for this tournament, others were injured. We can't abandon them and leave like cowards," Romao told L'Equipe. "If we stay here, it's for them. But also so as not to give satisfaction to the rebels.

"Our government doesn't necessarily agree with us but we are determined to play in this competition. The decision was taken unanimously."

Unrest associated with Cabinda, a northern enclave cut off from the rest of Angola by a strip of Congo, had been at low levels. The main separatist group was the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, or FLEC. The Angolan information minister blamed the group for the attack.

Portugal's state-run Lusa news agency said FLEC claimed responsibility in a message on Friday. In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Saturday, the civilian arm of the separatist group did not claim responsibility for what it called an "unfortunate incident," but said it was irresponsible of organizers to have ignored warnings from separatists that matches should not be held in Cabinda.

Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou said he received guarantees from Angola Prime Minister Antonio Paulo Kassoma on Saturday that security will be increased at all venues, at the request of all teams.

Following that meeting, Hayatou and most of the CAF leadership flew to Cabinda and agreed with Angolan officials to play all scheduled matches there.

Then they met with the teams based in Cabinda: Togo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

"In case you decide to leave the competition," Hayatou told Togo, "we will definitely understand your decision and it will be accepted. It is a difficult choice -- individual and collective -- and you are the only ones who can decide."

Though Africa's soccer championship will open as planned on Sunday, other teams remained shocked and worried by the ambush.

"We have goose bumps ... who knows what is going to happen to us," Mozambique assistant Amade Chababe told AP Television News when the squad passed through Johannesburg en route to Angola on Saturday.

Ivory Coast was "shocked and are living through very hard times" but not considering pulling out, general manager Kaba Kone told the AP. He said the Ivorian players visited Togo late Friday to express their sympathy.

In South Africa, the local World Cup organizing committee said the attack had no relevance to the soccer showcase starting in June. Spokesman Rich Mkhondo said organizers viewed Friday's attack as an isolated incident.

"We wish to state that there is no link between what happened in Angola and South Africa's preparations to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup," Mkhondo said. "We also cannot compare organization and security in Angola with South Africa just because the two countries happen to be in the same region in the world."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed his support for African soccer, and offered FIFA's backing to CAF in a letter on Saturday to Hayatou.

Blatter said he looked forward with confidence to FIFA and CAF organizing the World Cup.

Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor said that soon after their convoy entered Cabinda, "from nowhere gunmen began to open fire on our bus." He said the gunfire lasted 30 minutes before Angolan soldiers turned back the assailants.

Togo goalkeeper Kossi Agassa told France-Info radio that an assistant coach and a spokesperson died and a second goalkeeper was badly wounded. Kodjovi "Dodji" Obilale, the injured goalkeeper who also plays for French club Pontivy, was flown to South Africa where he underwent surgery for injuries to his back, said club president Philippe Le Mestre by telephone from western France.

Richard Friedland, CEO of Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, said Obilale suffered two gunshot wounds to the lower back and will undergo surgery late Saturday.

"He is fully receptive. He understands where he is," Friedland said.