Togo’s soccer team withdrew from a continentwide tournament in Angola hours before the opening match Sunday, reluctantly bowing to a retreat after its government accused the host of failing to protect the players following a deadly ambush blamed on separatists.
Underscoring the sense of insecurity, a pro-independence leader in the northern region where the ambush took place two days ago said more violence was possible.
The Togolese players themselves had earlier said they wanted to stay and compete in the African Cup of Nations in honor of their assistant coach and a team spokesman and the Angolan bus driver who died.
“We fully understand our government’s decision to leave because they didn’t receive enough guarantees for our security,” forward Thomas Dossevi told The Associated Press Sunday. “We as players, we wanted to stay to honor the memory of our dead people, but both positions are understandable.”
Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor told local station Radio Ecclesia the team wanted to stay, but “we are children of the Togo and we will abide by the decision of our government.”
Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo said in Togo’s capital, Lome, that “Angola and the African Football Confederation have not taken adequate security measures to ensure the safety of the Togolese national team.”
Houngbo said the country’s presidential plane was in Angola to take the team to Lome. He said that it would take some time to get them back, as they have to accommodate the wounded.
Dossevi said all team members would go to Lome together before rejoining their respective soccer clubs, some in Europe.
Saturday, most of the top officials of the African Football Confederation, known by its initials in French as CAF, went to Cabinda, the restive region where the attack took place and where some of the injured were recovering, and implored Togo to stay.
CAF president Issa Hayatou said he’d received a guarantee from Angola Prime Minister Antonio Paulo Kassoma that security would be beefed up for all teams and at all venues.
Angola’s Prime Minister Kassoma also went to Cabinda on Saturday.
“We want to transmit to the authorities of the Togolese government the intention to celebrate this great African party,” Kassoma said on state TV Sunday. “And we also say to the Togolese delegation and to all the other delegations that their safety is guaranteed. “We would also like to say that faced with the events that have taken place we are going to give more visibility to the protection and safety of the delegations. We will reinforce the safety and protection measures.”
In a telephone interview Sunday with The Associated Press, Tiburcio Tati Tchingobo, minister of defense in the self-declared Federal State of Cabinda, denied his Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda forces were responsible for the ambush. He added the attack was sparked by frustration that could lead to more violence.
He said his group had no objection to the African Cup of Nations tournament, even with play in Cabinda.
“On the side of the federal government, I’ve got no problem,” he said, reached on a satellite phone number and saying he was in Cabinda. “The tournament can go on, but we are worried about security. We don’t have any problem with our fellow African brothers.”
In a communique Saturday, Tchingobo self-proclaimed independent government said it was irresponsible of Hayatou to have ignored warnings from separatists that matches should not be held in Cabinda.
The Angolan information minister blamed the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, known as FLEC, for the attack on the Togolese team. In Sunday’s exclusive interview, Tchingobo said that was “Angolan government manipulation, to tarnish our names, to make us out as terrorists.”
Portugal’s state-run Lusa news agency said FLEC claimed responsibility in a message on Friday.
The conflicting reports could stem from divisions among pro-independence groups in Cabinda. Several claim the name FLEC.
--- Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo and Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.