LUANDA (Reuters) - Togo have been banned from the next two African Nations Cups following their withdrawal from this year's competition after two members of their delegation were killed in an ambush, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said on Saturday.
"The players publicly expressed their willingness to return to the Nations Cup to compete. But the Togo government decided to call back their national team," the CAF said in a statement.
"The decision by political authorities contravenes CAF and African Nations Cup regulations. The executive committee therefore has banned Togo from the next two African Nations Cups and fined the Togo FA 50,000 U.S. dollars."
A Togolese assistant coach and a press officer died following an ambush on their bus in the northern Angolan province of Cabinda on January 8, prompting the government to recall the team for three days of mourning.
CAF chief press officer Suleiman Habuba said the decision was based on article 78 of CAF regulations which say: "A forfeit notified less than 20 days before the start or during the final competition shall entail, in addition of the forfeit of the entry fee, a maximum fine stipulated by the regulations as well as the suspension of the concerned national association for the following two editions of the African Cup of Nations."
The CAF statement added: "The executive committee and CAF repeat their profound sympathy to the families of the victims of the tragic attack. CAF has condemned the attack and denounced the act of terrorism."
Angolan police in Cabinda have arrested two alleged members of the FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda), a separatist movement that claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Lome, the Togolese prime minister's office said it would wait to be formally notified of the move by CAF before issuing a reaction.
Togo midfielder Thomas Dossevi, who was on the bus when it came under fire minutes after it crossed the Angolan border from Pointe Noire, Congo, said Togo should appeal against the ban.
"We are a group of footballers who came under fire and now we can't play football any more. They are crushing us," he told Reuters by telephone.
"Togo should appeal the suspension. When we said we were going home for a three-day mourning they said they were with us in this ordeal and now they punish us."
The families of the assistant coach and the press officer were taking legal action against the CAF and the Angolan state, their lawyer said.
"We are taking legal action because our compatriots were killed because of the mistakes of the Confederation of African Football (and) its president Mr Issa Hayatou," lawyer Alexis Aquereburu told Reuters Television.
"(The legal claim is) also against the Angolan state for putting in danger the life of our compatriots by organising this African Nations Cup in a war zone."
The FLEC has fought a 30-year war against Angola's government for independence. One grievance is that Cabindans see little of the money from oil that comes from their land.