Phone signals are vital in a country that has had most of its infrastructure damaged by ongoing conflict [EPA]

Mobile phones have stopped working in Afghanistan's restive Helmand province following orders from the Taliban, telecoms engineers have said.

"The Taliban threaten us to shut down the network and call us a spy station, on the other hand the government harasses our workers when we listen to the insurgents," Ahmad Shah, head of mobile phone firm AWCC in the south, told the Reuters news agency.
"We are in a situation to listen to the Taliban rather than the government because there is no protection."

According to reports, phone signals have been down for five days on any network in the southern province, disrupting a vital service in a country where most infastructure has already been damaged.

There are virtually no land lines in much of the country, so stopping mobile signals hits communication hard.

Fighters across Afghanistan have destroyed network towers of companies that refuse to shut them down when ordered, arguing that foreign forces use them to monitor armed groups.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed the shutdown saying it was to prevent night raids by foreign troops and would benefit the people of Helmand.

"The leadership has decided to ban all telephone networks and this move is better for all residents of Helmand," he told Reuters.

"Their spies provide information by cell phones which lead to civilian deaths," he added, saying only the Taliban leadership could decide to lift the ban.

Helmand officials have been unable to speak about the blackout because of the lack of phone signals.

Source: Agencies