Niger signs off on Libyan deal for state telecom firm

Reuters News
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Posted: May 26, 2011 8:49 AM
Niger signs off on Libyan deal for state telecom firm

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger has confirmed a deal with Libya's LAP Green Network for a ten-year majority share in state telecommunications firm Sonitel and its mobile arm, Sahel Com, according to a government statement.

Under the deal, Green Network -- part of the Libyan African Investment Portfolio (LAP) -- will pay 31 billion CFA francs ($65.86 million) for a 51 percent share in a ten year license for the communications firms, which will be fused into one.

The investment comes despite Green Network being hit by United Nations sanctions targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, with Zambia in March saying it was freezing Green's assets there.

Sonitel was previously controlled by a Chinese-Libyan consortium, Dataport, but the deal was scrapped by Niger's government in 2009, partly due to the lack of investment.

A union spokesman complained that the new deal would be no better and called for an international tender for the contract.

The new deal was first agreed by the country's military government in January. The uranium-exporting West African nation is now headed by Mahamadou Issoufou, who came to power after winning an election in March.

"Directives were given to apply this protocol," according to a government statement, which was read on state television late on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting.

A spokesman for the main telecommunications union immediately rejected the deal, saying that Green's investment would be no better than the previous one, which brought together China's ZTE and the Libyan Arab African Investment Company.

"Whether it is LAAICO or the Green Network, it is the same thing - it is Libya," said Adam Amoumoum, spokesman for a collection of unions covering the telecommunications sector.

"As before, they will not respect their promises and Sonitel will not be made profitable. We call for an international tender (for the contract)," Amoumoum added.

LAP is Libya's flagship Africa investment vehicle, which was launched in 2006, and the Green Network operates in a number of African countries.

($1=470.7 Cfa Franc)

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Valdmanis)