US reworks ban on telecoms sales to Syria

The US Treasury Department on Monday confirmed a ban on the sale of telecommunications equipment to Syria's government, but okayed links with some private firms, as it tweaked sanctions against Bashar al-Assad's regime. According to a Treasury document signed on Monday, US firms are barred from selling the Syrian government telecoms equipment or technology, "including satellite or terrestrial network connectivity." But the order signed by Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, would allow business to be conducted with some firms not linked to the government or on a sanctions blacklist. Washington had slapped blanket sanctions on the Syrian government and a host of individuals linked to the regime amid a deadly crackdown on protestors across the country. On August 17 President Barack Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against the Syrian regime because of what the White House termed a "continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria." The sanctions froze Syrian government assets and banned US citizens from doing new business with the country, or importing petroleum products. According to the United Nations, the crackdown has killed at least 2,700 people. Syria's fixed-line phone sector is dominated by the government-owned operator Syrian Telecom and the top cellphone company is run by Ramzi Makhlouf, a figure who appears on the Treasury's blacklist. Meanwhile South Africa operator MTN Group is estimated to have around 45 percent of the Syrian mobile phone market. Throughout the tumult, Syrian state-backed television channels have broadcast pro-government accounts of events in the country. Syrian news networks have also been used to broadcast messages from Libya's Moamer Kadhafi and the remnants of his regime. Speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it was "a matter of time" before the Syrian regime headed al-Assad is ousted from power by the uprising. (c) 2011 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 3, 2011