by Tom Sheldrick
Update: Togo exit the African Nations Cup as death tole rises.
The bus carrying Togo’s national soccer side has been ambushed in Angola.
According to early reports, the bus driver was killed, while two players and two members of medical staff have been seriously injured, after gunmen used machine guns to target the party as they arrived in the Cabinda region of Angola for the African Nations Cup.
The two injured players are believed to be goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale and defender Serge Akakpo.
Nantes striker Thomas Dossevi told French radio station RMC:
‘We were machine-gunned like dogs and had to remain hidden under our seats for around 20 minutes to avoid the bullets. Getting shot on the way to a football match is just disgusting’.
Angolan officials have called the attack an ‘act of terrorism’. Oil-rich Cabinda, which does not share a border with the rest of Angola, has long been afflicted by the actions of separatist rebels.
Doubts had already been raised about Angola’s choice at African Nations Cup hosts before the incident. Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, but then endured 27 years of civil war. The ceasefire of April 2002 was due largely to the death of rebel group ‘Unita’ leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight with government forces. Nationalist movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec) officially laid down their arms in 2006, but the government recently sent thousands of troops to subdue simmering unrest.
The brand-new Estádio Nacional do Chiazi in Cambinda is due to host seven games during the African Nations Cup in January, the first of which was to be Togo’s clash with Ghana in Group B on Monday.
The incident will also raise fears ahead of the first World Cup to be held on African soil, in South Africa between 11 June and 11 July 2010. The murder rate in South Africa is around the highest in the world, at 50 people per day.
Today’s incident was the second time in less than a year that an international sports team’s bus has been fired upon. 12 gunmen ambushed the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers en route to a test match in Lahore, Pakistan. Six policemen and two civilians were killed, and six members of the Sri Lankan side were injured.
Togo, nicknamed the Sparrow Hawks and boasting Manchester City’s £25-million striker Emmanuel Adebayor, appeared at their first World Cup in 2006, but failed to qualify for this summer’s showpiece. Their soccer side has fresh memories of tragedy, after a helicopter crashed on the way home from a game in Sierra Leone in June 2007. 20 members of a delegation of sports officials were killed, with the players due to board on the next helicopter.
Tom Sheldrick is a freelance writer and can be reached at: email@example.com