Africa Cup of Nations begins under cloud after attack
The Togo national football team plans to return home from the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, on the advice of its government after an attack by militants on Friday. What is your reaction?
The Togo team bus was ambushed and players were shot at on their way to a tournament venue in Cabinda, Angola. Three people on board the bus were killed.
The Confederation of African Football says its competition will go ahead with tightened security. The Togo players have expressed a desire to stay and play. But their government is calling them home.
Should the Cup of Nations go ahead? Is the Togo government right to call its players home? What impact will this incident have on the World Cup in South Africa later this year?
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The Africa Cup of Nations is getting under way in Angola as Togo prepare to fly home after a gun attack on their team bus which killed three people.
However, as Angola prepare to play Mali at 1900 GMT, reports claim efforts to persuade Togo to stay are continuing.
Although the team initially wanted to leave after Friday’s ambush, they then said they would play on in Angola.
But Togo Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo insisted they quit over security fears and sent a plane to bring them home.
However, latest reports suggest that 11th-hour negotiations to keep Togo in the tournament are still ongoing.
Team coach Hubert Velud told AFP: “For the moment, it looks like we’re leaving. But I can only speak in the conditional, because for the last three days everything changes every other hour.”
But BBC World Service reporter Matthew Kenyon said at 1835 that the Togo team had boarded a coach and were heading for the airport.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos condemned the attack in the tournament’s opening ceremony in Luanda. A minute’s silence was due to take place just ahead of kick-off.
The attack on Togo’s convoy in the northern enclave of Cabinda killed an assistant coach, press officer and bus driver, and injured several other players.
Striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who plays in the Premier League with Manchester City, had previously said the team thought that life should go on and they did not want to be seen as ruining the tournament which begins on Sunday.
However, following further consultation with Togo government officials, he accepted the authorities’ wishes.
He said: “This Friday at 1430, we were all dead on that bus. We sent our last messages to our families. We called our family to say our last words. I told myself: ‘If you’re still there on the ground in Angola, why not (play)?’
“The authorities decided we should return (home), so we will return.”
Adebayor also revealed he spoke to members of the Ivory Coast and Ghana camps, two of the three other teams in their group – Burkina Faso being the fourth.
Angola has increased security for all teams and at all venues
“They expressed their support by saying they were ready to leave the competition if we did,” he said.
“(But) at the end of the day, we realised that they were ready to continue. It is still a continent where a World Cup will take place in South Africa.
“If we speak of the dead, the competition should have been cancelled. But the Confederation of African Football (Caf) has decided otherwise.
“We’re going back and we wish good luck to those who will remain, especially to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.
“What I have told their leaders is that they may be attacked at any time in Cabinda. I hope they will be cautious.”
Adebayor’s team-mate Thomas Dossevi said part of the players motivation for wanting to compete was to honour those killed and French paper L’Equipe quoted another player Alaixys Romao as saying the team would not “leave like cowards”.
But it seems that Houngbo’s advice has led to a change of heart.
Earlier, Houngbo said while he understood the feelings of the players and believed the competition should go ahead, the government stood by its decision to call the team back to Togo and had sent a plane to collect them.
“We took into account their last-minute change of mind,” Houngbo told the BBC.
“Up to midnight last night, they were all unanimous that they wanted to come back.
“After the delegation that we sent to visit them left, then they had another meeting and all of a sudden they changed their mind and we do respect that.
“But we explained to them through their captain, Adebayor, that in memory of those who had lost their lives, we also need to take into account what the families also think is the best way to pay tribute to them.
“That does not overtake the importance of security, and security is non-negotiable.”
Houngbo also criticised the Confederation of African Football (Caf), saying it had not given Togo any information to assess the security situation after the attack.
“So far we did not even have a single call, even a call of sympathy, from Caf,” Houngbo added.
“We do not even have information that will allow us to have an assessment from a security standpoint, taking into account what has happened.
“Anybody who is involved in security matters will tell you that it would be irresponsible for us just to pretend that nothing has happened, and to just let the ‘music’, the ‘show’, go on.
“That’s why we believe it’s important for us to look at it more from the security for our people, than just from the ‘show’ perspective.”
Togo were due to play Ghana, who have confirmed they will remain in the tournament despite concerns over security, in Cabinda in their first match on Monday.
The Togolese government has demanded Angola explain why it was not warned of the dangers of travel in Cabinda, where the bus was ambushed.
Angolan officials had earlier expressed astonishment that the team had travelled there by road from their base in the Republic of Congo.
On Saturday, government spokesman Pascal Bodjona said: “We cannot in such a dramatic circumstance continue in the Africa Cup of Nations.”
Oil-rich province cut off from the rest of Angola by DR Congo
Flec rebels fought for region’s independence
Rebels laid down arms in 2006 but some unrest continues
Angola had dismissed concerns about staging games there
He reiterated that message on Sunday, saying: “The government is maintaining its decision to call the team back home.”
Togo’s stance has changed several times amid intense negotiations, with Dossevi quoted as saying that the players wanted “to show our national colours, our values and that we are men”.
Caf had already said it understood Togo’s initial decision to withdraw, but that the six other matches scheduled to be played in Cabinda would go ahead.
In Friday’s attack, several gunmen opened fire on the team bus shortly after it had crossed from the Republic of Congo into the enclave of Cabinda.
Togolese officials said the driver had died at the scene, while media officer Stanislas Ocloo and assistant coach Amalete Abalo died later in hospital.
The separatist rebel Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec), which has fought for independence for several decades but entered into a ceasefire in 2006, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Angolan government, which had hoped the tournament would show how well it had recovered from the fighting, called the incident an “act of terrorism”.
CAF president Issa Hayatou said he had received a guarantee that security would be increased for all teams and at all venues.