A senior official of the dissident group that launched a fatal ambush on the Togo football team has expressed his “condolences”, saying rebels attacked their bus by mistake.
Rodrigues Mingas, secretary general of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec), said his fighters had meant to attack security guards as the convoy passed through the Angolan province of Cabinda, which sits wholly inside the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Monday, Angolan state media reported two arrests in connection with Friday’s attack, which came as the Togo team travelled to the Africa Cup of Nations. Three people were killed — the team’s assistant coach, its official spokesperson and the bus driver.
“This attack was not aimed at the Togolese players but at the Angolan forces at the head of the convoy,” Mingas told France 24 television. “So it was pure chance that the gunfire hit the players. We don’t have anything to do with the Togolese and we present our condolences to the African families and the Togo government. We are fighting for the total liberation of Cabinda.”
The provincial prosecutor, Antonio Nito, said the two people arrested belonged to Flec, which has fought for three decades against the Angolan government and claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The two elements of Flec were captured at the scene of the incident, the road to Massabi that connects both countries [Angola and the DRC],” he said in a statement published on the state-owned news agency Angop. No other details were immediately available.
Eight people were wounded during the ambush, including a goalkeeper, Kodjovi Dodji Obilalé, who was airlifted to South Africa. He is said to be in a stable condition in intensive care.
Togo’s players reluctantly left Angola late on Sunday for three days of mourning. They had said they wanted to compete in the tournament to honour 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.
Thomas Dossevi, a team forward, said: “We fully understand our government’s decision to leave because they didn’t receive enough guarantees for our security. We as players, we wanted to stay to honour the memory of our dead people, but both positions are understandable.”
The opening ceremony of Africa’s most famous football tournament went ahead on Sunday. Among the VIPs attending was SA President Jacob Zuma, intent on expressing his support for Angola — and African football — as organisers of Africa’s first World Cup came out fighting against attempts to conflate the Angolan instability with preparations in South Africa.
The organisers warned against negative stereotyping of the entire continent, raising the issue of “Afro-pessimism”.
Through a spokesperson Zuma dismissed speculation that the incident raised questions over security for the World Cup in South Africa five months from now.
Sajjan Gohel, the international security director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based thinktank, said many people had been looking to the Angola tournament as a litmus test for the World Cup. “Although it is not in South Africa it is in Southern Africa, so I suppose many people were looking at it in a similar light,” he said.
But Danny Jordaan, the chief World Cup organiser in South Africa, said: “I don’t think the world has ever asked one country to take responsibility for what happens in another country. Fortunately the majority of the world is not influenced by a warped understanding of the African continent. If there is a war in Kosovo and a World Cup in Germany no one asks if the World Cup can go on in Germany. Everyone understands the war in Kosovo is a war in Kosovo.”
As supporters entered the national stadium in Luanda they expressed their determination for the tournament to be a success and expressed little fear, despite a pledge by Flec to carry out more attacks.
“It’s the first time that we’ve organised the Africa Cup of Nations and we’re here to celebrate,” said 30-year-old André Fernandes. “It’s going to be great to see the African stars. We’ve got Angolans who play in Europe, but some of the big names in world football are going to be here.”
Flec said the ambush was the first in a planned wave of terrorist strikes. Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African football, said the Angolan prime minister, Antonio Paulo Kassoma, had promised increased security at all venues.
The Togo team, travelling by coach from their training ground in Congo-Brazzaville, had just entered Cabinda when they came under heavy fire. Another bus, carrying equipment, was sprayed with bullets.
Cabinda is responsible for half of Angola’s oil production. Before the attack Flec was not thought to be a serious risk. Last month an Angolan minister without portfolio, António Bento Bembe, who is a former Flec fighter, said the group no longer existed. He claimed all that remained of Flec was a few individuals who were trying to attract unhappy Cabindans with false statements. – guardian.co.uk