Official: Togo will play in Cup to honor dead

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CABINDA, Angola (AP) — The Togo soccer team will take part in the African Cup of Nations to honor those killed in a shooting attack on the team bus, an African soccer official said Sunday.

Confederation of African Football spokesman Kodzo Samlan told The Associated Press that he spoke to the players and “they confirmed they want to play.”

“The players understood that they had to play — to honor the dead,” he said.

Some members of the Togo team, as well as the Togo government, had given earlier indications that the squad would withdraw from the tournament after three people were killed and eight injured in an ambush on Friday.

However Samlan — who is from Togo — said by telephone from Benguela, Angola, that the team was awaiting approval from the Togo government to remain.

Friday’s ambush killed an assistant coach, a team spokesperson and the bus driver, according to the team and the Togo government. Eight others were wounded.

Togo’s goalkeeper Kodjovi “Dodji” Obilale was shot in the lower back in the attack, flown to South Africa and taken into surgery almost immediately at Johannesburg’s Netcare Milpark Hospital.

On Sunday, doctors said it was too soon to discuss the prospects for Obilale who remains in intensive care after surgery.

Ken Boffard, a trauma specialist caring for Obilale, said the 25-year-old Obilale, who also plays for French club Pontivy, was “extremely fit and has very good resistance. So, it’s very much in his favor that he is an athlete.”

Milpark doctors said they had sent a team to transport another injured person to South Africa, but that that person had died by the time the South Africans landed.

Midfielder Alaixys Romao, who plays for French League 1 club Grenoble, was quoted to say in L’Equipe that the squad and officials met Saturday and elected to go ahead with the tournament, starting with their opening match against Ghana on Monday.

“People died for this tournament, others were injured. We can’t abandon them and leave like cowards,” Romao reportedly said. “If we stay here, it’s for them. But also so as not to give satisfaction to the rebels.

“Our government doesn’t necessarily agree with us but we are determined to play in this competition. The decision was taken unanimously,” he said.

With tournament officials declaring the tournament will start on schedule on Sunday, and with Togo’s Group B matches to be played in restive Cabinda, the tour party was met there on Saturday by most of the top officials of the CAF, who implored Togo to stay.

CAF president Issa Hayatou said he’d received a guarantee from Angola Prime Minister Antonio Paulo Kassoma that security would be beefed up for all teams and at all venues.

“It is left to you to decide to stay in a competition synonymous with fraternity, brotherhood, friendship and solidarity,” Hayatou said.

The Togo government, aside from wanting the party back home, demanded an apology on Saturday from Angola and African Cup organizers for basing the team in Cabinda.

Togo government spokesman Pascal Bodjona said from the capital Lome that it was difficult to understand why Angolan authorities chose Cabinda to host cup matches when it knew “the area was a dangerous and risky zone.”

Bodjona said nobody informed Togo that it was hazardous to travel by road to Cabinda.

Unrest associated with Cabinda, a northern enclave cut off from the rest of Angola by a strip of Congo, had been at low levels. The main separatist group was the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC). The Angolan information minister blamed the group for the attack.

Portugal’s state-run Lusa news agency said FLEC claimed responsibility in a message on Friday. In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Saturday, the civilian arm of the separatist group did not claim responsibility for what it called an “unfortunate incident,” but said it was irresponsible of organizers to have ignored warnings from separatists that matches should not be held in Cabinda.


Associated Press writers Rob Harris in London, Jamey Keaten in Paris, and Ebow Godwin in Togo contributed to this report.