Togo Soccer Players Attacked by Gunmen

Gunmen in an Angolan area plagued by separatist violence opened fire on a bus carrying Togo to the African Cup of Nations on Friday, wounding at least six people including two footballers.

Togo players said they wanted to pull out of the 16-nation tournament, though a member of the Angola organizing committee said it will go ahead as planned from Sunday.

Togo’s bus in a convoy from Congo was 10 kilometers (six miles) across the border in Angola when it came under fire. The bus driver died in the 30-minute ambush, according to Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor.

“We were machine-gunned like dogs,” Nantes striker Thomas Dossevi told Radio Monte Carlo. “They were armed to the teeth … We spent 20 minutes underneath the seats of the bus.”

Dossevi told Infosport television in France: “We were surrounded by police buses. Everything looked fine and we came under heavy fire. Everyone scrambled under the seats trying to protect themselves. It lasted at least a quarter of an hour with the police responding.”

The wounded were taken to a hospital in Cabinda, and Portugal’s state-run Lusa news agency said it received a communication from the region’s main separatist group, FLEC, claiming to have carried out the attack.

Togo Football Federation vice president Gabriel Ameyi said the team should have flown to Angola instead of traveling by road.

He said defender Serge Akakpo and backup goalkeeper Obilale Kossi were among those hurt.

FC Vaslui said on its Web site that the 22-year-old Akakpo, who joined the Romanian club from Auxerre last year, was hit by two bullets and lost a lot of blood but was now out of danger.

Midfielder Alaixys Romao believed Togo should return home.

“If we can boycott it, let’s do it,” Romao told French TV channel Infosport. “It’s just not on for us to be shot at because of a football match. All I can think about is stopping this competition and going home.”

Dossevi agreed: “We don’t want to play this African Cup of Nations,” he told Infosport. “We’re thinking about our teammates — to be hit by bullets when you’ve come to play football is disgusting.”

Adebayor told the BBC that “if the security is not sure then we will be leaving tomorrow. I don’t think they will be ready to give their life.”

“Most of the players want to go back to their family. No one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their teammates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything.”

The African Football Confederation condemned the attack against the Togolese delegation and held an emergency meeting.

“The Angolan authority deployed immediately a team down there to assess the exact situation,” CAF said in a statement.

A delegation of Angolan officials and a delegation from CAF will be heading to Cabinda on Saturday while the Angolan Prime Minister will meet CAF president Issa Hayatou “to take decisions to guarantee the smooth running of the competition.”

CAF also expressed its “total support as well as sympathy to the entire Togolese delegation.”

FIFA also expressed “utmost sympathy” in a statement, and expected a report from CAF.

The tournament will still go ahead as planned, said a senior member of the local organizing committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He said Ivory Coast, considered the top African team, arrived early Friday in Cabinda, where Togo was also to be based as part of Group B. Burkina Faso had been there since Jan. 2, and Ghana was the other group member.

Togo was due to play in the opening group match on Monday against Ghana.

Even if the tournament goes ahead, the attack was a major blow to host Angola.

Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was clearly banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery. A building boom fueled by oil wealth has included new stadiums in Cabinda and three other cities for the tournament.

But Cabinda, Angola’s main oil-producing region, has been plagued by unrest. Human rights groups have accused the military of atrocities and claim government officials have embezzled millions of dollars in oil revenue. The government has denied the charges.

The simmering violence in Cabinda is separate from a larger civil war that broke out after independence from Portugal in 1975. An anti-colonial war had begun in the southern African country in the 1960s. Major fighting ended in 2002.

The attack on Togo was the second major gun attack on a sports team in less than a year. Several players were injured and six policemen killed when gunmen fired on the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2009.

The violence also comes five months before the World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the continent. The biggest concern leading to that 32-team tournament has been the security situation in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest crime rates.

Togo, which played at the 2006 World Cup, did not qualify for this year’s finals.

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