Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kosovo announces tender for second mobile operator

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The United Nations-governed Kosovo on Thursday announced a new tender for a second mobile phone operator, after the U.N. cancelled the previous one in 2004, citing irregularities.

Kosovo Telecommunications Minister Qemajl Ahmeti told a news conference that the minimum price for the operator's licence was set at 20 million euros, which prospective buyers would be expected to top up with an additional "offered price".

The regulator deciding on the offers would also take into account each bidder's proposed coverage plans, quality, prior experience in the telecom sector and local employment proposals.

"The tender will be opened on November 3 and will last for 75 days, until January 17, 2007," Ahmeti said.

Monaco Telecom, 55-percent owned by Britain's Cable and Wireless Plc , provides Kosovo's only official mobile phone service under a deal with the U.N.-created fixed-line phone company, Post and Telecom Enterprise.

It has around 350,000 users in a territory of two million people. Like Monaco Telecom, the new provider will have to use its own national calling code at least until the U.N. decides on the majority Albanians' demand for independence.

The first tender for a new mobile phone operator -- awarded to local company Mobikos, backed by Mobitel of Slovenia -- was annulled after U.S. and British diplomatic representatives voiced doubt over the transparency of the process.

The United Nations has governed Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in a two-year war with guerrillas.

The West is pushing for a decision on its final status around the turn of the year. Diplomats predict a form of independence under European Union supervision.

Under Kosovo's hazy legal status, Serbian mobile operators have been offering services for years, mainly for the beleaguered Serb minority. The Kosovo government says they are illegal but they have been tolerated by the U.N. mission.

Last week, the Kosovo government said it had won the backing of the U.N. to start removing antennas of the Serbian operators, except in areas where the 100,000 remaining Serb live.


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