Soccer: Radio: 2 arrests in attack on Togo team
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
AP Sports Writer
CABINDA, Angola — Authorities have arrested two people in Angola’s restive Cabinda region and accused them of responsibility for a deadly shooting attack on the Togolese soccer team, Angolan state radio announced Monday.
According to the brief statement, the two unidentified suspects were arrested Sunday. No other details were immediately available. Angolan officials have blamed the ambush on a separatist movement in the northern region of Cabinda, where the attack took place.
A separatist leader reportedly in exile in France said Monday his group had been targeting Angolan troops escorting the Togolese team.
“In war, anything can happen, this is only the beginning,” Rodrigues Mingas, who calls himself the group’s leader, told France-Info radio.
The Togolese team was driving to Angola to take part in the African Cup of Nations tournament when gunmen opened fire on the bus Friday. Togo’s assistant coach and team spokesman were killed, as was the Angolan bus driver died. Eight were wounded, including a goalkeeper flown to South Africa for treatment.
Togo’s players reluctantly left Angola late Sunday. They had said they wanted to compete to honor the dead, but their government dispatched the presidential plane after saying it was not safe to stay.
Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo said Angola had not done enough to protect the team after the attack in Cabinda, an oil-rich region that has seen occasional separatist violence.
“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. “We as players, we wanted to stay to honor 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 had decided finally 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 Web site.
Boarding the plane, Adebayor told journalists: “We have to mourn our dead. We go back home to do this.”
Togo Sports Minister Christophe Padumhokou Tchao, who was accompanying the team home, told the AP three days of mourning had been declared in his homeland.
“We can’t be in a period of mourning and at the same time be in the festival” of sport, he said. He added Togo had asked organizers to postpone the tournament.
In the tournament’s opening match Sunday, Mali and host Angola tied 4-4. The first match to be played in Cabinda was scheduled for later Monday.
“Despite the terrorist attack, Cabinda will remain a hosting city,” Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos said in a speech at the opening ceremony before the Mali-Angola match. “There is no need to be afraid.”
Mingas, who calls himself the leader of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda forces, or FLEC, said Monday his group was behind the attack.
But another official in Cabinda has denied that FLEC forces were behind the ambush. In a telephone interview with the AP on Sunday, Tiburcio Tati Tchingobo said his group had no objection to the tournament, even with play in Cabinda.
“The tournament can go on, but we are worried about security. We don’t have any problem with our fellow African brothers,” said Tchingobo, minister of defense in the self-declared Federal State of Cabinda, when reached on a satellite phone number.
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.
Cabinda’s armed groups have been weakened by the factional fighting. But periodic announcements from the Angolan government that the Cabinda uprising has been quelled — either by force or negotiations — have been followed by new outbreaks of violence.
The Angolan government has denied charges from international human rights groups its military has committed atrocities in Cabinda. In Sunday’s exclusive interview, Tchingobo said he feared the attack on the Togolese team would spark a crackdown by Angolan forces in Cabinda after the tournament ends.
Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery.
Cabinda’s unrest is unrelated to — and often overshadowed by — a broader civil war that lasted nearly three decades and ended in 2002.