Angola underestimated rebel threat at Nations Cup: minister

LUANDA, Jan 9, 2010 (AFP) - Angola may have underestimated the threat posed by separatist guerrillas who staged a deadly gun attack on Togo's football team ahead of the African Nations Cup, a minister told AFP on Saturday.

Before joining the government, Antonio Bento Bembe led the separatist movement in Cabinda, a tiny enclave that produces more than half of the oil that has fuelled Angola's recent economic boom.

A picture grabbed on the Televisao Publico de Angola channel shows unidentified players of the Togolese national football team after the attack in Cabinda on January 8, 2010 (AFP photo)

He insisted that the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) no longer existed as a cohesive force after he signed a 2006 peace deal, but admitted that government may have underestimated the strength of the rebellion's remnants.

"Perhaps Angola's security forces under-estimated the FLEC's ability to pose a nuisance," he told AFP.

"Despite that, you must note that our police forces responded immediately and repelled the attackers.

"I made war in Cabinda, I speak with knowledge of the cause. Everyone is free to say whether or not this was a FLEC attack. For me, these are elements staging terrorist attacks."

Claiming responsibility for Friday's shooting, FLEC warned in a statement that more attacks would follow.

The group has claimed a series of recent attacks against the military and foreign workers in Cabinda, where oil giant Chevron maintains a large staff base.

The enclave is separated from the rest of the country by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and separatists have battled for its independence since the end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1975.

Bento Bembe said he remained confident that security forces would ensure the safety of the tournament, and defended the decision to allow Cabinda to host seven of the matches this month.

"Cabinda is a province like any other in Angola. And the Nations cup is positive for Angola. It does not represent a threat. There is no reason not to organise the Nations Cup in Cabinda."

"I have confidence in our security and defence forces. This incident does not negate the effectiveness of Angola's defence forces," he said.

Angola's sports ministry has vowed to beef up security for the tournament, but Bento Bembe declined to say what measures would be taken.

"These are questions of security and defence that cannot be discussed in the press," he said. "It must be known that there are safeguards in place, but these defences are secret."

Source: AFP

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