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Myanmar telecoms winners to be named despite house vote

By Aung HlaTun and Jared Ferrie

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar, which is offering operating licenses to global telecoms firms for the first time, will announce the outcome of the auction as planned on Thursday despite opposition in parliament.

The lower house voted on Wednesday to delay the award of the two hotly contested licenses until after the enactment of a new telecommunications law that is still making its way through parliament.

The ruling injected new uncertainty into the tender, which has attracted more than 90 companies and consortia including Singapore Telecommunications Ltd and Telenor ASA.

"We are ready to announce the final winners sometime today, according to the original schedule. We don't have any reason to postpone it," Set Aung, who heads the Telecommunications Operator Tender Evaluation and Selection Committee (TOTSC), told Reuters.

"Parliament can't stop it at this point," he added, without saying when exactly the announcement would be made.

Myanmar is one of the world's last telecoms frontiers, with only 9 percent of its 60 million people at most having mobile phones. But faced with big investments and uncertain returns, some bidders have dropped out of the auction.

Vodafone Group Plc and China Mobile Ltd have abandoned their joint bid, saying it did not meet their "internal investment criteria."

The remaining short-listed contenders, some of whom have local or foreign partners, are: Singapore Telecommunications, KDDI Corp, Telenor, Digicel, Axiata, Bharti Airtel, MTN, Vietnam's Viettel, Qtel (Ooredoo), Orange and Millicom International Cellular.

The motion passed by Myanmar's lower house on Wednesday also stipulated that licenses should go only to bidders that had domestic companies as partners in a joint venture.

The government says it will finalise the 15-year licenses by September and operators will need to launch services within nine months.

Operators will also have to provide voice services across three-quarters of the country within five years and data services across half of it.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun and Jared Ferrie; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ryan Woo)

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