Angola to bolster security for Egyptian football team

Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that a special “working cell” was established to closely monitor security measures of its national football team participating in the Africa Cup of Nations following Friday’s ambush on the Togolese players that left at least two dead and several wounded.

“A working cell of all Egypt’s national bodies was formed to follow up on all logistical arrangements to protect our national football team,” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

Zaki added that the Foreign Ministry has reinforced its diplomatic mission in Launda to coordinate with Angolan authorities to assure maximum security guarantees for Egyptian fans.

On Sunday, Togo ordered its footballers home from the Africa Cup of Nations, even though the squad itself wants to stay and take to the pitch.

Just hours before the 22-day tournament’s opening match between Angola and Mali, the Togolese players said they wanted to honor those killed by sticking with their fixtures, starting with a Group B opener on Monday against Ghana.

But Togolese Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo said they must return home immediately, as goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale recovered from gunshot wounds in a South African hospital.

Defending champion Egypt’s Coach Hassan Shehata said on Saturday that his players have been deeply affected by the attacks on Togolese players, ruling out meanwhile the possibility of Egypt’s withdrawal from the tournament.

“It’s only natural to assume that the footballers would be worried, but they shouldn’t be over concerned as the team is stationed in a secure city,” said Karim Farouk, a sports editor at the weekly Al-Ahram Hebdo.

He added that the Egyptian team is based in the coastal city of Benguela, which is quite far away from the troubled city of Cabinda where the assault on Togo’s team took a place two days ago.

Benguela is about 800 kilometers south to Cabinda.

“Even if Egypt qualifies to the second round, it will either stay in Benguela, or travel further to the south to play against one of Group D’s qualifiers in the city of Lubango,” Farouk explained.

At least two members of the Togolese contingent — one an assistant coach, the other a team spokesman — were killed and nine wounded when hooded gunmen opened fire on Togo’s convoy as they drove into Angola’s northern Cabinda enclave from neighboring Congo-Brazzaville.

Separatist rebels threatened to carry out more attacks, saying they had warned Issa Hayatou, head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), against holding matches in Cabinda.

"This is going to continue, because the nation is at war, because Hayatou persists," said Rodrigues Mingas, secretary general of the Forces for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda-Military Position (FLEC-PM).

Angolan rebels warn weapons will "talk" in Cabinda.

"We wrote two months before the Nations Cup to Mr Issa Hayatou to warn him that we were at war. He did not want to take our warnings into consideration," Mingas told AFP by telephone in France, where he lives in exile.

Mingas’s faction is one of several groups battling for independence in small but oil-rich Cabinda, a cornerstone of Angola’s economic boom, despite a 2006 peace agreement.

Nations Cup organisers and Angolan Prime Minister Paulo Kassoma had made impassioned pleas for Togo to stay, making repeated assurances to bolster security for the games.

The Cabinda shooting had security forces on edge in Luanda in the run-up to Sunday’s opening game. In one incident, police fired into the ground after a driver failed to make a stop, witnesses said.

In Accra, Ghana’s President John Atta-Mills "demanded extra security" at the tournament. An official added: "The safety of our players and any other participating countries is very important, hence the need for extra security."

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