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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 19:14 GMT
Internet returns to Somalia
Al-Barakaat billboard
Al-Barakaat's closure has affected many Somali families
By Hassan Barise in Mogadishu

A new telecommunications company has opened its doors in Somalia, two months after the country's only internet provider and a major telecommunications company were closed down for allegedly supporting terrorism.

The firm, NetXchange, opened its business on Wednesday with an attractive charge of 60 US cents per minute for all its telephone calls, lower than the existing prices in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Telecom workers
Somalia's telecom sector is booming
The company is also offering 1,000 Somali shillings (5 US cents) to anyone who receives an international call at one of its call shops.

The Somali Internet Company and the al-Barakaat group of companies were shut down after the United States accused them of financing Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Al-Barakaat also helped Somalis transfer money internationally - a vital source of income for the families of many Somali ex-pats.

The manager of NetXchange, Mr Mohammed Ahmed Ibar, says that the company will provide both wire and wireless internet services to the residents of Mogadishu.

The new telecommunication company says that it has up to 40 call shops and internet cafes with a total of 2,000 telephone lines.

New Bank

NetXchange is not the only institution filling the void left by the closure of al-Barakaat.

This week, a new bank in Mogadishu, the Universal Bank of Somalia, was opened.

The bank officials say that they are connected to 62 other international banks in 72 countries, including main business markets in London, Brussels and New York.

The bank has tried to avoid having enemies in Somalia by announcing that it will operate in collaboration with existing money transfer companies.

Criticism

However, the governor of Somalia's central bank, Dr Mohamud Mohamed Ulusow, has strongly criticised the launch of the bank.

In a press statement, Dr Ulusow described Universal Bank as an unlawful institution which has no legal standing.

Nationlink billboard
Calls within Mogadishu will remain free
He called on Somalis not to trust the bank, and he advised the public not to deposit their money with the bank.

The central bank governor also appealed to the judiciary of the transitional government to investigate the new bank, and to take appropriate action against it.

Despite his criticism, everyone in Somalia knows that none of the existing money transfer businesses and remittance companies have licences, but they are still operating.

The chief executive officer of Universal Bank of Somalia, Mr Mahad Barkhadleh, has expressed his surprise at the Dr Ulusow's comments.

"And I am afraid that [Dr Ulusow] is not even the one to legalise the banks, if such legalisation would start now," says Mr Barkhadleh. "It should be at least the minister of finance to do such a job."

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Africa
Somalia: The land of opportunity
13 Nov 01 | Africa
Somalis stranded in Ethiopia
11 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Somalis feel US squeeze
08 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali company 'not terrorist'
09 Oct 01 | Africa
Somalis protest over bank notes
08 Feb 01 | Africa
Anger over fake Somali currency
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