Togo’s soccer team withdrew from the African Cup of Nations 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 honour of their assistant coach and a team spokesman and the Angolan bus driver who died in the attack.
"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 honour the memory of our dead people, but both positions are understandable."
Togo team captain Emmanuel Adebayor, speaking in an interview with France's RMC radio Sunday, said the team finally decided to "pack our bags and go home" after the Manchester City striker got a call from Togo President Faure Gnassingbe himself urging them to return.
"That's what made the difference," Adebayor was quoted as saying in a transcript of his interview on RMC's website.
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."
Rebel minister denies ambush
In a telephone interview Sunday with The Associated Press, Tiburcio Tati Tchingobo, minister of defence in the self-declared Federal State of Cabinda, denied his Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) 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 communiqué Saturday, Tchingobo's 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 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.