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Qatar telecoms firm Ooredoo in talks to sell its Myanmar unit - sources

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People sit at a bus station with an Ooredoo advertisement as they wait for a bus in Yangon

By Fanny Potkin

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Qatari telecommunications firm Ooredoo is in talks to sell its Myanmar unit in what would mark the exit of the country's last foreign telecoms operator, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The people said Doha-based Ooredoo has informed Myanmar's Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD), the country's regulator, of its intention to sell a unit that was Myanmar's third-biggest operator with nearly 15 million users in 2020, before the industry was disrupted by February 2021's military coup.

The main potential buyers for the company include Myanmar conglomerate Young Investment Group, Singapore-headquartered network infrastructure operator Campana Group, and telecoms company SkyNet, one person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Skynet is owned by Myanmar group Shwe Than Lwin.

The people said talks with the three suitors have not yet reached final stages.

Ooredoo did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

Calls to a spokesman for the Myanmar junta, to the PTD, Skynet and Young Investment Group were not answered. Campana Group said it had no immediate comment.

The sources, who declined to be named due to confidentiality constraints, did not put a value on the size of the potential sale.

Reuters could not immediately determine how much Ooredoo has invested in Myanmar. Ooredoo had 9 million customers in 2022, according to its earnings, down from 15 million in 2020, for which it reported revenue of about $330 million.

The telecoms sector in Myanmar has faced increased pressure since the military seized power in 2021, after previously having been one of Asia's fastest-growing markets. Mobile data remains shut down in part of the country, after nationwide restrictions on the internet throughout 2021.

Earlier this week, Myanmar's central bank ordered domestic companies and banks to suspend and reschedule repayment of foreign loans.

Ooredoo is the last majority foreign-owned telecoms company in Myanmar after Norway's Telenor withdrew from the country in March this year in a departure mired in difficulty.

Telenor's former unit in the country is now majority-owned by Myanmar firm Shwe Byain Phyu, with a minority stake purchased by Lebanese investment firm M1.

Other telecoms service providers in the country are MPT, a large state-backed operator, and Mytel, a venture between Myanmar's army and Viettel, owned by Vietnam's defence ministry.

Telenor told Reuters in 2021 it had to sell its operations to avoid European Union sanctions after "continued pressure" from the junta to activate intercept surveillance technology.

Reuters reported in July 2021 that a confidential PTD order had been issued banning senior foreign telecoms executives from leaving the country without permission. The travel ban was followed by a second order instructing telecoms firms to fully activate the intercept.

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)