Togo ordered its footballers home from the Africa Cup of Nations yesterday, even though the squad itself wants to stay and take to the pitch in the wake of Friday's ambush on their convoy that left at least two dead and several wounded.
Just hours before the 22-day tournament's opening match between Angola and Mali, the Togolese players said they wanted to honour 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.
We understand the position of the players who want to in some way avenge their dead colleagues, but it would be irresponsible for the Togolese authorities to allow them to continue," Houngbo told reporters in Lome.
"If there is a team or persons present under the banner of Togo at the opening of the Africa Cup of Nations this afternoon, it will be a false representation. The team must return today."
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 neighbouring 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.
"They were warned, they knew it, and they closed their eyes."
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.
Togo international Thomas Dossevi, who plays for French side Nantes, told AFP in Cabinda that the players had unanimously decided that they wanted to stay despite the security worries.
"We are all heartbroken, it is no longer a party, but we want to show our national colours, our values and that we are men," Dossevi said.
Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor had earlier been reported by his club Manchester City to be returning to Britain. Goalkeeper Obilale was reported a good condition after undergoing surgery in a Johannesburg hospital for gunshot wounds to the lower back and abdomen, a doctor told reporters.
"The operation went well. It was a routine operation… The patient is in good general condition," said surgeon Elias Degiannis.
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."