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Two Of Togo Soccer Cup Delegation Die After Ambush


CABINDA, Angola (Reuters) -- Two members of Togo's national soccer delegation have died following an ambush on the team's bus as it travelled to the African Nations Cup in Angola, a team member told French radio.

The January 8 attack, in which the driver was also killed and seven others were injured, took place in Cabinda, a province where guerrillas have fought a secession campaign for decades.

"We lost the assistant coach and the press officer," said Messan Attelou, chief spokesman for Togo's soccer federation.

He said Togo had not yet decided whether to pull out of the tournament.

"We are going now to see and talk to the players and then make a decision whether or not we take part in the competition," he told Reuters at Cabinda airport.

But the players appeared set on leaving, and the English Premier League club Manchester City announced that their Togolese star Emmanuel Adebayor had already left Angola.

Togolese officials named the dead men as media officer Stanislas Ocloo and assistant coach Amalete Abalo, and said reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale had been evacuated to Johannesburg for medical treatment, where he was reportedly in serious but stable condition.

The attack came five months before neighboring South Africa hosts the World Cup, the first African nation to hold the world's biggest single sport event.

Virgilio Santos, an official with the African Nations Cup local organising committee COCAN, said teams had been told explicitly not to travel to the tournament by road.

"We asked that all delegations inform us when they would arrive and provide the passport number of their players," he told the sports weekly A Bola.

"Togo was the only team not to respond and did not inform COCAN it was coming by bus.... The rules are clear: No team should travel by bus. I don't know what led them to do this."

The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Blow For Africa

A shaken Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor, who escaped the attack unharmed, said his team might quit the African Nations Cup, which is due to open on Sunday and feature some of the world's most valuable players.

Adebayor, who joined Manchester City for a reported $40 million last year, said the attack would hurt the image of Africa as a whole.

"We keep repeating [that] -- Africa, we have to change our image if we want to be respected -- and unfortunately that is not happening," Adebayor told the BBC World Service.

"A lot of players want to leave. They have seen death and want to go back to their families."

Cabinda, the scene of attacks by separatists even after Angola's 27-year civil war ended in 2002, is responsible for half of oil production in Angola, which rivals Nigeria as Africa's biggest producer.

The Togo team bus, traveling from its training ground in the Republic of Congo, had just entered the enclave, geographically cut off from the rest of Angola, when it came under heavy gunfire.

A crisis meeting was expected to take place in the Angolan capital Luanda between local officials and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) over tournament security.

Former Togo coach Otto Pfister said the assault would cast a shadow over the World Cup.

"This is a real blow for Africa. It will obviously be linked directly with the World Cup now," he told the German sports news agency SID. "And it will give the critics a boost."

World Cup Fears

South Africa has spent at least 13 billion rand ($1.7 billion) on new stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup.

Rich Mkhondo, chief spokesman for the World Cup organising committee, said the attack had no relevance to the World Cup.

"We remain confident that everyone coming to South Africa will have a safe and secure experience in our country," he said.

South African President Jacob Zuma will attend the January 10 opening ceremony despite the attack, his spokesman said.

CAF has said the Nations Cup, which ends on January 31, will go ahead and the Angolan government said late on January 8 all teams would still take part.

There has been no official suggestion that matches will be pulled from Cabinda, wedged between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo and due to host seven matches.

The first games in Cabinda are due to be played on January 11, with Togo taking on Ghana and Ivory Coast facing Burkina Faso.

Ivory Coast general manager Kaba Kone told reporters:

"We have not considered leaving the tournament. Organisers and CAF must improve safety. The party is not ruined, we can still have a great party if safety is guaranteed. We did not come here to play with death but to play football."

The FLEC was not thought to be a serious risk in Cabinda, despite claiming to have kidnapped a Chinese oil worker and killed government soldiers last year.

In December, Angolan minister without portfolio Antonio Bento Bembe, a former FLEC leader, dismissed the claims and said the group no longer existed.

compiled from multiple Reuters reports