Page last updated at 18:49 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

Angola attack transforms optimism to horror

Police escort the Ivory Coast soccer team from their compound in Cabinda, Angola
Too little, too late? Security has been scaled up after the Togo team attack

By Louise Redvers
BBC Angola correspondent

The Angolan government chose to use the northern enclave of Cabinda as a venue for the African Cup of Nations to improve the province's war-torn image and drive investment.

But its plan has turned out to be a tragic own goal, with reports of three dead, Togo set to pull out of the tournament and Angola in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The Togolese team - which includes Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor and Aston Villa midfielder Moustapha Salifou - were shot at by a group of gunmen as they travelled by bus from the Republic of Congo into Cabinda, which is separated from Angola by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The small jungle province is home to much of Angola's offshore petroleum activity and has been at the centre of a long-running independence fight led by various splinter groups of Flec (the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda).

Despite a so-called peace deal in 2006, low-level insurgency has continued and there have been sporadic reports of attacks on members of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and some on Chinese and Brazilian nationals working in the province.

Notoriously dangerous

Flec had made some veiled threats that it might attack during the Cup of Nations - when it knew the world's media would be watching - but the Angolan government gave assurances security was in place and there would be no trouble.

Speaking ahead of the tournament, Antonio Bento Bembe, a former Flec leader who was made a government minister as part of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding, said: "Cabinda is safe and security there is guaranteed.

Players in shock after the attack (video grab)
Emmanuel Adebayor, right, escaped injury but was visibly shocked

"The Cup of Nations is an opportunity for Cabinda to receive visitors and it will bring money and investment to the province," he added.

Later, responding to the shooting, the minister said he had made the statements in good faith and added: "I am really sad to think that our African brothers came to Angola to take part in the Cup of Nations and this has happened."

An investigation has been launched into what happened, but questions are also being asked about why Togo chose to drive through a notoriously dangerous part of the province, a known location for insurgents, instead of flying to Cabinda city directly, according to the Confederation of African Football regulations.

"The mistake is that the team travelled by road, they had obviously done no serious risk assessment of the area," said Alex Vines, of London-based think tank Chatham House.

"This is the Mayombe rainforest and where radical Flec separatists have operated for decades.

"They number just several hundred but they can be disruptive, despite the large number of Angolan military and security deployed in the province, and international companies in the zones have been targeted with abductions and killings."

Vanished optimism

Few such attacks reach the headlines because of an ongoing clampdown on media activities in the province of Cabinda and the government's refusal to acknowledge Flec's actions.

Oil-rich province cut off from the rest of Angola by DR Congo
Flec rebels fought for region's independence
Rebels laid down arms in 2006 but some unrest continues
Angola had dismissed concerns about staging games there

With Togo having pulled out of the tournament, the organising committee is pledging tighter security but trying to play down the incident. On Saturday, it issued a statement repeating that the competition would go ahead as planned.

Angola has reportedly spent $1bn preparing for the biannual tournament to be played in the four host cities of Luanda, Lubango, Benguela and Cabinda.

As well as four brand new Chinese-built stadiums, there are new airports, roads, hotels and upgraded hospital facilities.

Hype has been building in the country for weeks and the streets of Luanda have been a sea of red, black and gold Angolan flags and people in team shirts and caps.

One woman selling mangoes outside Luanda's 50,000-seat stadium said: "We are happy about the Cup of Nations because it will bring tourists to Angola, and they will see that the war is over and that the people are peaceful."

After the incident involving the Togo team, this type of optimism may now be hard to find.

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