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By ESPN Staff

Guinea cancel Nations Cup buses over bandit fears

CONAKRY, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Guinea has cancelled convoys of buses supposed to ferry supporters to the African Nations Cup, which starts on Sunday in Ghana, because of fears of banditry when crossing war-divided Ivory Coast.

President Lansana Conte's government has instead chartered a plane to fly some 200 supporters to the Ghanaian capital Accra to watch Guinea face the tournament's hosts in its opening game on Sunday.

But the cancellation of the 20 buses could deprive hundreds of supporters of the chance to view their team in action as regular flights are too expensive for many ordinary Africans.

'The road convoys of supporters have been cancelled because in Ivory Coast the security situation is not reassuring,' said a senior military official, who asked not to be identified.

Amadou Dioulde Diallo, a journalist with state television, said several coaches which had been due to leave the Guinean capital Conakry on Tuesday had been cancelled by the government.

'Authorities considered that the journey was risky not just because of the possible accidents but also because of the bandits who swarm over the route,' he told Reuters.

Ivory Coast, francophone West Africa's economic powerhouse, has been divided into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south since a brief 2002-2003 civil war.

A peace process to reunite the former French colony, backed by neighbouring Burkina Faso, has made steady progress over the last year and national elections are expected in 2008.

'At a time when there are often serious incidents on the roads of the sub-region, you cannot say this is an imprudent decision,' Diallo said.

With demand high for flights to Ghana to see the continental tournament, which takes place every two years, many Guineans desperate to travel to Accra complained that tickets had risen to $900 from a normal price of $600.

Many Guineans are fanatical soccer fans and a powercut in Conakry during a previous edition of the Nations Cup sparked rioting.

'It wouldn't be a bad thing if they could organise an air convoy to allow the maximum number of supporters to accompany their team,' said sports journalist Mamadou Bory Bah.