Mobile phone services restored as Afghan truce holds

Afghanistan boasts millions of mobile users in a population of 30 million, with the fast-growing industry employing around 200,000 people. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Mobile phone services restored as Afghan truce holds

  • The Taliban, US and Afghan forces are currently overseeing a week-long ‘reduction in violence’ that kicked off on Saturday
  • The Taliban have long targeted Afghanistan’s private telecom firms, kidnapping engineers, destroying transmission masts

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan: Mobile phone services were restored across swathes of Taliban-contested areas of Afghanistan over the weekend as a partial truce with the militants held for a second day.
The Taliban, US and Afghan forces are currently overseeing a week-long “reduction in violence” that kicked off on Saturday.
The commitment has seen fighting drop dramatically and is set to pave the way for an American withdrawal deal to be signed later this week.
There have been reports of small clashes in rural areas, but no major attacks that have long defined the conflict have erupted, allowing telecoms operators to restore networks.
“For almost three years, all the telecom networks were not working at night in Kunduz province due to the Taliban threats,” said Akhtar Mohammad, the head of provincial telecommunication offices, saying most networks had now been restored.
An official in the northwestern province of Badghis also said mobile networks were up and running, while a source confirmed that progress was being made elsewhere in the country to restore coverage.
The Taliban have long targeted Afghanistan’s private telecom firms, kidnapping engineers, destroying transmission masts and forcing regular coverage blackouts in volatile areas to avoid detection of their fighters.
Afghanistan boasts millions of mobile users in a population of 30 million, with the fast-growing industry employing around 200,000 people and earning strong revenue in an otherwise moribund economy.
Thousands of telecommunication towers, however, are in insurgency-hit areas and vulnerable to attacks.
The partial truce is expected to set the conditions for Washington and the insurgents to sign a deal in Doha on February 29 that could, ultimately, pull US troops out after more than 18 years and launch war-weary Afghanistan into an uncertain future.
A successful week would demonstrate that the Taliban have command and control of their forces, and it would also be a show of good faith before signing any deal.
The partial truce has also given a much-needed respite to civilians who have borne the brunt of the gruesome war.
The UN’s Afghanistan mission reported Saturday that more than 10,000 people had been killed or wounded in 2019 alone.
As fighting eased across the country, Afghans took to the streets to enjoy the relative calm.
In their southern stronghold of Helmand, Taliban fighters mingled with locals, small “peace” demonstrations took place across the country, and a bicycle race was held in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
Washington has been in talks with the Taliban for more than a year to secure a deal which would see it would pull about half of the 12,000-13,000 troops currently in Afghanistan out.
In return, the Taliban would give security guarantees and a promise to hold peace talks with the government in Kabul.


South Sudan confirms first case of coronavirus

Updated 17 min 12 sec ago

South Sudan confirms first case of coronavirus

  • The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said the woman is a member of its staff
  • South Sudan has already closed bars, night clubs and shops, other than those selling food, and encouraged people to observe social distancing rules

JUBA: South Sudan reported its first coronavirus case on Sunday, one of the last African nations to confirm the presence of COVID-19 within its borders.
“South Sudan confirms one case of coronavirus,” Riek Machar, the country’s first vice president, told a press conference in the capital Juba.
Machar identified the patient as a 29-year-old woman who arrived in South Sudan from the Netherlands via Ethiopia on February 28.
Her nationality was not given.
In a statement, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said the woman is a member of its staff.
She tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday after presenting herself at a UN clinic on Thursday.
“The Ministry of Health is leading a full investigation with the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention including identifying and following up all the possible contacts and next steps,” Machar said.
South Sudan has already closed bars, night clubs and shops, other than those selling food, and encouraged people to observe social distancing rules.
Borders have been shut and the country’s international airport closed. A curfew is also in place from 8:00 p.m. to 06:00 am.
One of the world’s poorest countries, South Sudan is woefully undeveloped. It has been wracked by a series of civil wars over decades, leaving it ill-equipped to fight the pandemic or provide even basic health care to its citizens.
The most recent round of civil war cost the lives of an estimated 380,000 people, forced millions from their homes and wrecked the already weak economy. It only ended with the appointment of Machar as vice president in February, rejoining the government of his foe President Salva Kiir.