Off Air

Jan 18, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka stopped mobile phone services for nearly half a million users in the island’s embattled east as government troops were locked in combat with Tiger rebels, an official said Thursday. More than 60,000 people have died during the 35-year ethnic conflict as minority Tamils fight for an independent homeland. Despite a Norwegian brokered truce more than 3,800 people were killed when violence escalated last year.

Troops battling Tamil Tigers have asked telecom operators to switch off their networks to prevent guerrillas making use of mobile phone services for military operations.

“It’s a routine request whenever a major operation takes place,” a senior telecom ministry offical said Thursday.

Telecom operators said nearly 500,000 subscribers were switched off, with communication limited to a few fixed line telephones scattered over the region.

Nearly six million Sri Lankans have access to some form of telecommunications, of which 4.5 million are mobile phone users, according to Central Bank of Sri Lanka figures.

The northern and eastern regions emerged as a hot spot for telephones when a truce pact was signed in February 2002. Residents in the northern town of Jaffna bec