CABINDA, Angola – Hosting the African Cup of Nations was Angola’s chance to show it is recovering from decades of war. But gunmen sprayed bullets at Togo’s national team, killing three people and forcing its withdrawal from the soccer tournament.
Africa’s main soccer tournament was expected to open as planned today, even though players from other countries expressed shock at the ambush on the Togo team bus as it traveled through Angola’s restive oil-rich Cabinda province. A Togolese player said his team was withdrawing.
“We have goose bumps … who knows what is going to happen to us?” Amade Chababe, assistant coach to the Mozambique national football team, told AP Television News as the squad passed through Johannesburg en route to Angola on Saturday.
In South Africa, the local organizing committee of the World Cup said the attack had no relevance to the upcoming global sports event that starts in June. Spokesman Rich Mkhondo said organizers view Friday’s attack as an isolated incident that could have happened anywhere in the world. FIFA expressed “utmost sympathy” in a statement.
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“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.”
The attack in Angola, a former Portuguese colony, killed an assistant coach, a team spokesperson and the bus driver, according to the team and the Togolese government.
“Despite this, the championship will go on,” Angola’s Sports Minister Goncalves Muandumba said.
Togo forward Thomas Dossevi told The Associated Press in a phone interview that the team plans to withdraw from the continentwide tournament and fly out of the country early today. However, later in the day the team said they would play.
Emmanuel Adebayor, who is captain of the Togo team and a top player for Manchester City, described a vicious attack on a defenseless team.
Unrest associated with Cabinda, a northern enclave cut off from the rest of Angola by a strip of Congo, has been at low levels. The main separatist group is 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 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.