An Angolan separatist leader threatened further attacks during the African Nations Cup yesterday as officials in Luanda announced that they had arrested two rebels.
The warning followed a machine-gun attack on a bus carrying the Togo national football team in the enclave of Cabinda on Friday in which two Togolese officials and an Angolan bus driver died.
“In war anything can happen. This is only the beginning,” said Rodrigues Mingas, an exiled leader of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda.
“Weapons will continue to talk. They will continue to talk because this is a war and because (the African football confederation) is stubbornly going ahead with matches in Cabinda.”
Mr Mingas claimed that the rebels who attacked the Togo team bus as it made its way from a training camp in the Republic of Congo to a venue in Cabinda City had been aiming at the Angolan security escort. “So it was pure chance that the gunfire hit the players,” he said.
This conflicted with reports that the bus was machine-gunned from both sides for 15 minutes.
Mr Mingas's statement, made in a telephone interview from Luxembourg with a French radio station, France-Info, angered and embarrassed the French government. The foreign ministry in Paris hinted that action would be taken against Mr Mingas, who is a resident of France.
“Such comments are unacceptable and will have consequences. We condemn them with the greatest vigour,” said the foreign ministry spokesman.
In Angola officials said two separatist rebels had been captured near the scene of Friday's shooting in Cabinda, a detached, oil-rich province north of Angola proper.
The Togo squad were driving into Cabinda to play their first match in the African Nations Cup.
The assistant coach Amalete Abalo, media spokesman Stanislas Ocloo and the bus driver were killed.
Eight others were injured, including goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, who was taken to South Africa for treatment. Doctors said he had bullet fragments in his stomach but was recovering well.
Three days of mourning were declared in Togo and the squad were recalled at their government's insistence. Before the opening match of the tournament on Sunday — a 4-4 draw between Angola and Mali — Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos insisted that the remaining matches scheduled in Cabinda would be played. “Despite the terrorist attack, Cabinda will remain a hosting city,” he said.
“There is no need to be afraid.”