February 25, 2008 / 12:15 PM / 11 years ago

Taliban issue ultimatum to Afghan mobile operators

An Afghan woman in a burqa checks her mobile phone with a friend on the streets of Kabul in this June 11, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents on Monday gave Afghan mobile phone operators three days to shut down their networks at night or face attack, as the rebels said international forces used the cellphones to track them down.

The warning was issued after recent talks with representatives of the four mobile phone companies, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Reuters by mobile phone from an undisclosed location.

“Since the occupying forces stationed in Afghanistan usually at night use mobile phones for espionage to track down the mujahideen, the Islamic Emirate gave a three-day ultimatum to all mobile phone firms to switch off their phones from five in the afternoon until seven in the morning,” Yousuf said.

If the mobile companies failed to follow the Taliban order, then the Taliban would target their towers and offices, he added.

Ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban themselves largely rely on mobile phones for communicating with each other and for passing their news to the media in Afghanistan.

Four mobile phone operators, three of them foreign firms, with an estimated investment of several hundred million dollars have sprung up in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ouster.

The four companies are: privately-owned Afghan Wireless Communication Company; Roshan, owned by an international consortium formed by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, the Monaco Telecom International and TeliaSonera; Areeba, owned by Investcom Holding; and Dubai-based Etisalat.

The mobile phone networks are virtually the only means of communication in a country devastated by decades of war and are the some of the biggest investors in Afghanistan.

The Taliban in the past have accused some mobile phone companies of colluding with NATO and U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

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