Mali have been forced to halt their training schedule in the run-up to their first game of the Africa Cup of Nations in the wake of a tragedy that took place near their base
(Image: Twitter@malifootball)ByJosh O’BrienSports Writer
- 14:05, 12 Jan 2022
- Updated14:11, 12 Jan 2022
Mali's preparations for their opening Africa Cup of Nations game were plunged into chaos after armed fighters stormed a town near their training base in south west Cameroon.
The Mali national team suspended training before their opening match against Tunisia in nearby Limbe on Wednesday afternoon, as per the Cameroon News Agency.
Gunfire between separatists and government forces at the central market in the town of Buea led to the death of two people, with another five injured, according to reports.
There were safety fears ahead of the tournament taking place due to conflict in the west of the country between English-speaking locals and French-speaking government officials.
Tournament mascot Mola the Lion was forced to don a bullet-proof vest and be the subject of an armed soldier escort when visiting the affected region to promote the competition.
The tournament mascot was forced to wear a bulletproof vest when promoting the competition in the impacted region
Army checkpoints have been installed in the town often manned by armed soldiers who conduct security checks on any visitors passing through.
The separatist group have objected to the tournament being played in Cameroon and have threatened to inflict violence in response.
The group have since taken responsibility for the attacks while local news reports have stated: "Two civilians (men) have been found dead at the Buea Central market following exchanges of gunshots between Ambazonia (what separatists call the region) and government forces."
A human rights worker who operates in the area of the shootings told the Mail : "There were gun shots this morning around the town.
"We also got information there was an improvised explosive device at the market. The [separatist] groups and security forces were fighting in the area.
"The non state groups want to create the impression that nothing should take place in the south west region [of Cameroon during the Afcon]."
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It is not the first act of violence that has marred the opening exchanges of the tournament, just days ago senator Harry Kemende was reported to have been shot and killed in the neighbouring North West region.
The conflict stems from armed groups wanting to form a breakaway state no longer under the rule of the current regime.
Dating back to 2016, it has so far taken the lives of at least 3,000 and forced just under a million people to flee their homes in fear.
The situation was relatively peaceful at the beginning but a strict response from the government only caused tensions to rise.
Despite the incidents nearby, Mali's clash with Morocco went ahead as planned.
A number of Premier League stars were involved in the game, including Brighton's Yves Bissouma and Southampton's Moussa Djenepo for Mali and Manchester United and Arsenal youngsters Hannibal Mejbri and Omar Rekik.
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