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Tragedy-Hit African Nations Cup Kicks Off, Without Togo

A Congolese policeman stands guard outside players' quarters in Cabinda.

A Congolese policeman stands guard outside players' quarters in Cabinda.

The biannual Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament is due to start with fireworks and champagne at a massive stadium in the Angolan capital, Luanda, where the hosts play Mali in the opening match.

But the January 8 attack on the Togo team has cast a shadow over an event supposed to show Angola is now at peace after years of civil war.

In the attack, gunmen opened fire on the Togo team bus after it had crossed from the Republic of Congo into Angola’s enclave of Cabinda.

The team's media officer, Stanislas Ocloo, and assistant coach Amalete Abalo were killed, along with the bus driver. Seven people were wounded, including reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale.

The separatist rebel Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, which has fought for independence for several decades but signed a cease-fire agreement in 2006, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Togo's Team Heads Home

Tournament organizers have said the event will still go ahead as planned. But there had been confusion surrounding Togo's participation following the attack.

Togo captain and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor told French radio today that his team will return home, saying, "The authorities decided we should return, so we will return."

The comment came after Togo's Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo said today the national football team must return home. He said his country "doesn't have a delegation anymore" to take part in the tournament in Angola.

"If a team or some people present themselves under the Togolese flag, either at the opening [today] or in any scheduled matches, I want to make it clear that that would be a false representation," Houngbo said.

Earlier, two players were quoted as saying the team would be on the pitch on January 11 to face Ghana.

Thomas Dossevi told the AFP news agency that the players want "to show our national colors, our values, and that we are men." And Alaixys Romao told the French sports newspaper "L'Equipe" that the team would not leave "like cowards."

Meanwhile, Kodzo Samlan, a spokesman for the tournament organizers, the Confederation of African Football, said Togo's players "confirmed they want to play."

Late on January 9, Angolan Youth and Sports Minister Goncalves Muandumba appeared on television to give assurances that the tournament will go ahead "according to plan."

"We will reinforce even more all the mechanisms and guarantees that all conditions are created and secured to guarantee the success, the organization, [and] security of people and all their belongings as previewed in the management plan of [the Africa Cup of Nations]," Muandumba said.

Togo has demanded Angola explain why it was not warned of the dangers of travel in Cabinda. Angolan officials expressed astonishment that the team had travelled there by road from the Republic of Congo.

compiled from agency reports