September 10, 2012 / 11:00 AM / 7 years ago

War-torn Yemeni firm Sabafon says winning back some customers

* Says lost 1 mln subscribers, now has 3.65 mln

* Says many sites repaired, but cannot reach some areas

By Matt Smith

DUBAI, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Yemeni mobile phone operator Sabafon, which last year blamed the government for attacks on its network infrastructure and reduced services for customers, said on Monday it has since won back a fifth of the 1 million subscribers it lost due to service disruptions.

In December, the firm, which is 27-percent owned by Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco), said it had come under repeated attack from state forces due to its chairman’s support for protests aiming to end the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. A government spokesman denied that Sabafon was deliberately targeted.

“We lost almost 1 million subscribers and managed to get back around 200,000,” a spokesman for Sabafon said on Monday in an emailed response to questions from Reuters, adding it now had 3.65 million subscribers.

“Landlines, international and GPRS (mobile) services were restored but the negative effect of the disconnection is still there as many international operators after the long period of disconnection decided to route their traffic to other operators.”

Sabafon competes against MTN Yemen, a unit of South Africa’s MTN, and state-run Yemen Mobile.

Sabafon described the situation in Yemen as “improving slowly” following Saleh’s exit in February, with the company’s relationship with Yemen’s government also on the mend.

But it still faces notable problems, with some equipment confiscated and still held at Sanaa airport, it said, while the company has been unable to repair some of its damaged sites.

“We managed to bring back to service as (many) as possible but some important sites are still out of service in areas controlled by the Republican Guards,” Sabafon said.

Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, a son of ex-president Saleh, is the commander of the Republican Guards, which clashed with regular troops in August.

Sabafon said it was still assessing the full cost of the infrastructure damage and loss of services and equipment.

“The company reserves its right to be compensated as result of the disconnection of services and damages and any other illegal actions against the company,” Sabafon said.

Average revenue per user (APRU) has also fallen “due to the unavailability of some services”, it added. (Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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