Major mobile operator in Yemen leaves Houthi-controlled Sanaa

Major mobile operator in Yemen leaves Houthi-controlled Sanaa
Sabafon facility in Sanaa. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2020

Major mobile operator in Yemen leaves Houthi-controlled Sanaa

Major mobile operator in Yemen leaves Houthi-controlled Sanaa
  • Sabafon, Yemen’s oldest and largest mobile operator, has almost four million subscribers

AL-MUKALLA: A major Yemeni mobile operator is relocating its main offices and operations from Houthi-held Sanaa to Aden, citing harassment and blackmail by the rebels.

Sabafon, Yemen’s oldest and largest mobile operator, has almost four million subscribers. It said it was moving its headquarters and servers to the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the internationally recognized government.

“The company has recently faced many difficulties and obstacles as a result of the Houthi militia seizure of the company’s headquarters in Sanaa,” the company said.

The Iran-backed Houthis had seized control of Sabafon’s headquarters, dismissed its manager, replaced him with an allied military officer and looted the company’s revenues, it added.

The government has long sought to convince Yemeni companies and banks to move their headquarters and main operations from Houthi-controlled territories, including Sanaa, to liberated areas in order to deprive the rebels of revenue. 

Government officials believe the Houthis are using the revenue from banks, telecom firms and Hodeidah seaport to finance their military activities. 

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the relocation of the central bank’s headquarters to Aden in 2016 to end the rebels’ plundering of bank reserves.

Sabafon said the president, his government and the Arab coalition had blessed the move and urged the remaining mobile operators to follow suit. 

Abdullah Al-Awadhi, a Sabafon spokesman, said that the company and other telecom firms in Sanaa had been subjected to Houthi extortion and harassment. “The companies in areas controlled by the Houthis would have to either shutter to move (to Aden),” he told Arab News.

When the Houthis heard about the company’s intention to leave Sanaa, they stepped up their attacks on the company’s facilities and harassed the workers. 

“We are paying a price for our move," Al-Awadhi said, adding that the Houthis retaliated by blocking Sanaa-based mobile companies from calling Sabafon subscribers and cutting off internet services. 

On Wednesday Sabafon subscribers complained that they could not receive or make calls to other companies. “We demand the ministry (of telecommunication) pressure the other operators to reconnect with us and to connect us with the international internet provider,” Al-Awadhi said.

Yemeni army commanders and military experts believe that the Houthis’ monopoly on telecom services have given them leverage on the battlefield. 

The Houthis have been accused of tapping the phones of their enemies, even inside government-controlled areas. The Houthis sometimes cut off mobile, landline and internet services before invading new areas, Yemeni officers said.

Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni army spokesman in Taiz, said that the relocation of mobile companies to Aden would remove an important financial source for the Houthis as well as prevent them from spying on government forces. 

“Liberating the telecommunication system from the Houthis would mean securing the most important factors for victory which (are) communications, control and confidentiality of military information,” Al-Baher told Arab News, adding that the Houthis usually identified the location of government officers and military gatherings after monitoring their mobiles and calls.


UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
Updated 22 April 2021

UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
  • Comments came after Syria’s parliament confirmed Bashar Assad will run for re-election in next month’s poll
  • Secretary-general’s spokesman said the vote is not part of the political process set by Security Council resolution

NEW YORK: The UN on Wednesday reiterated that it is not involved in the upcoming Syrian elections and has “no mandate to be.”

In came after the Syrian parliament announced on Wednesday that President Bashar Assad will run for re-election on May 26 in what will be the second presidential election held during the decade-long civil war in the country.

“(Syria’s) elections have been called under the auspices of the current constitution and they’re not part of the political process established under Resolution 2254,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “For our part, we will continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“Resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians including members of the diaspora.”

Pressed on whether or not his comment means the UN does not consider the elections to be free and fair, Dujarric said: “I think my words on Syria were pretty clear,” and reiterated his previous comments.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, has been working to support efforts to draft a new constitution as part of the political process aimed at ending the war and ensuring free and fair elections, supervised by the UN, in which all Syrians can vote, including refugees.

During a Security Council briefing last month, however, he acknowledged that due to a lack of “true engagement” by the Syrian regime, the political process has not succeeded in bringing about any tangible changes as yet, nor has it led to the adoption of a vision of the future for Syrians.

He said “free and fair elections” based on the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254 still “seem far into the future.”

Assad has been accused by Western countries, including members of the Security Council, of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to avoid UN-supervised elections.

Last month Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, asked the international community to “not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections. These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime. They do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254, including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution.”

Barbara Woodward, the British envoy to the UN, said the UK “stands with the Syrian people to deliver all the steps enshrined in Resolution 2254: a nationwide ceasefire; unhindered aid access; the release of those arbitrarily detained; conditions for safe refugee return; and free and fair elections pursuant to a new constitution — all of which represent the only way out of this conflict.”


Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
Updated 21 April 2021

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
  • British-Iranian labor rights activist Raoof and German-Iranian national Taghavi are being held in solitary confinement and are due in court next Wednesday
  • Multiple reports suggest Tehran is using cases to increase pressure before next stage of Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna

LONDON: Iran has set trial dates for British-Iranian labor rights activist Mehran Raoof and German-Iranian national Nahid Taghavi, who are due to appear before judges on Wednesday in separate cases, the UK-based newspaper The Guardian reported.

Raoof, 64, a former teacher in London, has been held in solitary confinement for more than five months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after he was secretly recorded talking about politics in a cafe, human rights campaigners have revealed.

Taghavi, 66, a retired architect who has diabetes, was arrested last October during a crackdown on women’s and labor rights campaigners. She has also been held in solitary confinement at Evin and will be tried before the revolutionary court, her daughter, Miriam, told The Guardian.

Multiple reports suggest that Tehran is using these two cases, in particular, to increase the pressure before the next stage of talks on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna.

Both Germany and the UK are supposed to be involved in the nuclear deal talks in Vienna, which are due to resume next week. Both countries backed the 2015 deal with France, Russia, China and the US. Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the pact three years later.

Amnesty International said Raoof is an arbitrarily detained “prisoner of conscience,” and expressed concern that he could be given a sentence of up to 16 years.

Taghavi appeared before a judge last week after six months in pretrial detention and the charges against her remain unclear.

Martin Lessenthin, of the International Society for Human Rights, said Taghavi is “innocent and has no chance to get a fair trial.” He said her lawyers have not accessed her files and that she is a victim of “political hostage-taking and the arbitrary judicial system of Iran.”


Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA
Updated 22 April 2021

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

VIENNA: Iran has installed extra advanced centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and plans to add even more, a report by the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday showed, deepening Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal with major powers.
The report is the latest evidence that Iran is pressing ahead with the installation of the advanced machines, even though it is not allowed to use them to produce enriched uranium under the 2015 agreement.
The accord only lets Iran produce enriched uranium at its underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are far less efficient than the advanced models.
“On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: ... six cascades of up to 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges; and two cascades of up to 348 IR-4 centrifuges ... were installed, of which a number were being used,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report to member states said, referring to the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. The report was seen by Reuters.
According to a previous report, the IAEA verified on March 31 that Iran was using 696 IR-2m machines and 174 IR-4 machines at the FEP.
Wednesday’s report also said Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to install four more cascades, or clusters, of IR-4 centrifuges at the FEP, where both of the IR-4 cascades it had planned have now been installed.
Meanwhile, the European parties to the agreement have seen progress in the first two rounds of indirect US-Iran negotiations to revive the deal but said on Wednesday that there were still major hurdles to overcome. The United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Grant McCool)


Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
Updated 21 April 2021

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
  • Judge Ghada Aoun staged a third raid on the offices of Mecattaf, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority
  • If she persists in defying judicial decisions she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council and face prosecution, a source told Arab News

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge on Wednesday raided the offices of Mecattaf money exchange company in Awkar for a third time, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority (JIA).

Judge Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s public prosecutor, was accompanied by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). She was previously dismissed from an investigation into possible breaches of currency export rules.

“What is happening is a rebellion that will duly be dealt with,” a judicial source told Arab News.

Other sources revealed that the head of the JIA, Judge Barkan Saad, called Aoun as she was forcing her way into the business’s premises and asked her to leave, but she refused to comply.

“What Judge Aoun is doing goes against the statements she made during her hearing before the Supreme Judicial Council and this is unacceptable,” the judicial source said.

“We will act accordingly and she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council, meaning that she could be prosecuted, because what she is doing falls under the judges’ crimes section. If the judiciary moves forward with this measure, she will be prosecuted by the prosecutor general.”

Mecattaf is one of the largest money and gold-trading companies in Lebanon. Aoun arrived at its offices in Awkar, Beirut, with her bodyguards, who are members of State Security, and broke the locks on metal gates at the entrance as her supporters cheers and shouted: “May God be with you, Ghada Aoun.”

They sat on the ground in the yard outside the building while Aoun entered it accompanied by a financial expert. The Internal Security Forces cleared the yard of protesters but allowed them to remain on the street outside.

Journalists were prevented from accompanying Aoun into the building but before she did so she told them: “I was prohibited from entering the company with my car, so I entered on foot. I was not allowed to enter because the company’s data exposes the people that smuggled their money abroad. I ask the judiciary to stand with me because these are the rights of the people, not my own.

“What was issued by the Supreme Judicial Council is just a statement, not a decision, and I have yet to be informed of it. Preventing me from entering with my car is a recognized crime and I call on the security forces and the president to intervene.”

Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Ghassan Oueidat, previously transferred the financial-transactions case that Aoun was handling to Judge Samer Lishaa. Aoun refused to abide by the decision and continued her investigation. She is backed politically by President Michel Aoun and his political bloc, represented by the FPM.

There are fears that the issue will become a political battle that will lead the international community to believe that while some officials are trying to fight corruption in Lebanon, others are attempting to prevent this.

“Judge Aoun is saying that Mecattaf Company possesses data with the names of all those who smuggled their money abroad before the decision to block deposits in dollars in Lebanese banks was issued in 2019,” a judicial source told Arab News. “However Michel Mecattaf, the director and one of the company’s shareholders, confirmed that his company is abiding by the Code of Money and Credit, meaning that it is subject to banking secrecy.”

Mecattaf has also stated that he is following the law “and a witness in this case, not a suspect.”

Groups of Judge Aoun’s supporters, using the names United Alliance and Cry of the Depositors, issued a statement in which they said: “Mecattaf’s representatives and the employees of his company are suspiciously refusing to hand over the remaining data, bearing in mind that the data extracted so far shows loopholes in the chains of (US dollar) transactions abroad during a crucial period from before the October Revolution in late 2019 to early 2020.

“This has pushed Judge Aoun to head to the company’s headquarters again, as the requests of the financial expert to obtain the accounting records and the documents related to money transactions were denied.”

In February last year, Mecattaf said that “shipping (of currency) is done under prior authorization from the Central Bank and under the supervision of the Banking Control Commission. The money we ship is ours, whether in dollars, pounds sterling or euros.

“So if we want to ship money abroad from Lebanon, we buy it as a commodity and transfer it aboard. Most importantly, money shipping is done exclusively from and to a banking or financial institution. There are no limits to shipping but we are not allowed to transfer money to a third party.”

Mecattaf also said: “Since the beginning of 2019, I have been receiving more than 100 calls daily from most of the politicians, bankers and rich people, asking me to transfer their money abroad. This went on for months.

“Carrying out such a thing is very difficult. It cannot be done unless a large majority of bank directors and employees are a part of it,” otherwise transactions that violate rules will not go unnoticed, he added.


Egypt-Libya direct flights resume, key pacts signed

Egypt-Libya direct flights resume, key pacts signed
Updated 21 April 2021

Egypt-Libya direct flights resume, key pacts signed

Egypt-Libya direct flights resume, key pacts signed
  • Egyptian PM Mostafa Madbouly and Abdel-Hamid Al-Dabaiba, the head of the Libyan National Unity Government, oversaw the signing of 11 documents to enhance cooperation
  • Mostafa Madbouly: Egypt’s Ministry of Aviation has issued instructions to allow the immediate reception of flights from Libya at Cairo airport

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has announced the return of direct flights to Libya from Wednesday after high-level meetings in Tripoli.

He has also announced a plan to ensure the return of Egyptian workers to Libya to contribute to its reconstruction and development.

During his visit to the capital, Madbouly and Abdel-Hamid Al-Dabaiba, the head of the Libyan National Unity Government, oversaw the signing of 11 documents to enhance cooperation.

Egypt’s Ministry of Aviation has issued instructions to allow the immediate reception of flights from Libya at Cairo airport, Madbouly said.

He added that the parties agreed to reopen the Egyptian Embassy and Consulate in Libya after Eid Al-Fitr.

He said the return of direct flights from Libyan airports to Cairo “is an important factor for cooperation in other economic fields.”

The agreements included deals on cooperation in transport, implementing road and infrastructure projects, and cooperation in the health sector.

Other agreements were signed on investment in international connectivity, raising capacities in the fiber optic system.

Libya and Egypt issued a joint declaration at the end of Madbouly’s high-level visit, highlighting discussions on political and economic issues of common interest.

The two sides emphasized the importance of continued coordination and the possibility of unifying their positions on several issues. They stressed the importance of Libya’s protection of its sovereignty over its territories, political unity, and independence.

Both leaders showed determination to facilitate the political process ahead of Libya’s general elections on Dec. 24.