x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Togo footballers to return home

The Togo squad pull out of the African Cup of Nations after being told to return home by the country's prime minister.

Angolan police special forces guard a bus as it leaves the Olympic Village in Cabinda.
Angolan police special forces guard a bus as it leaves the Olympic Village in Cabinda.

Togo's national soccer squad will return home and not compete in Africa's biggest soccer tournament, Emmanuel Adebayor, the team's captain, told French radio RMC today. "We had a meeting between players yesterday (Saturday) and we told ourselves we were football players and decided to do something nice for our country by playing to pay tribute to those who died," Adebayor said. "Unfortunately, the head of state and the country's authorities have made a different decision, so we will pack and go home." Togo's team to the African Cup of Nations was ambushed by rebels on Friday as it drove on a bus through Angola's Cabinda enclave. The driver was killed as was a press officer and the assistant coach. Seven people were wounded, including two players.

The players had said they still wanted to take part in the tournament but the Togolese prime minister Gilbert Houngbo said they must return home immediately, as goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale recovered from gunshot wounds in a South African hospital. "We understand the position of the players who want to in some way avenge their dead colleagues, but it would be irresponsible for the Togolese authorities to allow them to continue," Mr Houngbo told reporters in Lome. "If there is a team or persons present under the banner of Togo at the opening of the Africa Cup of Nations this afternoon, it will be a false representation. The team must return today."

Separatist rebels threatened to carry out more attacks, and said they had warned Issa Hayatou, head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), against holding matches in Cabinda.

"This is going to continue, because the nation is at war, because Hayatou persists," said Rodrigues Mingas, secretary general of the Forces for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda-Military Position (FLEC-PM). "We wrote two months before the Nations Cup to Mr Issa Hayatou to warn him that we were at war. He did not want to take our warnings into consideration," Mr Mingas said by telephone in France, where he lives in exile.

"They were warned, they knew it, and they closed their eyes." Mingas's faction is one of several groups battling for independence in small but oil-rich Cabinda, a cornerstone of Angola's economic boom, despite a 2006 peace agreement. Nations Cup organisers and the Angolan prime minister Paulo Kassoma had made impassioned pleas for Togo to stay, making repeated assurances to bolster security for the games. * Agencies