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Etisalat plans to invest Dh1.1b in Afghanistan

Abu Dhabi: May 24, 2006: Etisalat, which secured a license to operate Afghanistan's fourth GSM mobile network, will invest Dh1.1 billion ($300 million) in the war-torn country over three years.

Mohammad Hassan Omran, Chairman of Etisalat, yesterday signed an agreement in Abu Dhabi with Amirzai Sangin, Minister of Communications, to operate the network.

"We are paying $40.1 million to acquire this license, however, in the longer term, we are planning to invest $300 million over three years in the Afghan venture," Omran said.

"Etisalat already has ventures in Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan, accordingly extending our business to Afghanistan is a very logical choice as these countries have strong links and ties, hence our expectations for a rewarding investment.
"We will focus as well on the development of the Afghan people through the involvement of the Etisalat Academy to of enhance their skills and help them learn to utilize modern technologies," he said..

Etisalat is expected to own 60 to 70 per cent of the new joint venture, leaving the rest for the Afghan private sector, as the financial aspects are still subject to negotiations. Omran said Etisalat was seeking a wider scope of co-operation with Afghanistan to develop other aspects of the telecommunications industry, including the possibility of negotiating a fixed-line license.

Sangin said, his country's land lines had been shifted to Afghan Telecom, which could be privatised soon.
He said Etisalat had expressed interest in acquiring Afghan Telecom pending its privatization.

On the security situation in Afghanistan, Omran said, "We have conducted thorough studies about the country, and there are indeed several companies operating successfully there, and we are anticipating successful operations."
Sangin also said, "There should be no security concerns when it comes to investing in Afghanistan, as such projects provide for employment opportunities and economic stability, which will assist in maintaining security and stability not the opposite."
Omran also said Etisalat was interested in the Iraqi GSM market. "As soon as the Iraqi government announces the tender for the new license, we shall evaluate and study the possibility, as we have concluded initial studies and spoken for an Iraqi venture."