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Etisalat considers Africa investments

Chairman of Arab telecom says ready to invest up to $5bn when opportunities arise.

Emirates Telecommunications (Etisalat), the second-largest Arab telecom company by market value, is considering new investments of up to $5 billion in Africa, it said on Monday.

Etisalat, which lost its telecom monopoly at home when rival du launched a mobile phone network in February, took over Zanzibar Telecom in Tanzania last month and bought 40% of a new Nigerian operator in September.

"We can spend between $3 (billion) and $5 billion for investing in Africa when the opportunities arise," Etisalat Chairman Mohammad Hassan Omran told Reuters.

Etisalat has spent more than $6.5 billion on foreign acquisitions in the past three years, including a 66% stake in Egypt's third mobile phone firm, which started operations in May.

It also runs networks through affiliates in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and said last month it would be interested in buying into Oman Telecommunications.

Etisalat had submitted a bid for a minority stake in Kuwait's third mobile phone firm, Omran said.

Etisalat could spend $1 billion on developing fixed-line, mobile phone and data services in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, Omran said in September. And it has repeatedly said it would be interested in a stake in any partial privatisation of Algerie Telecom.

Shares of the Abu Dhabi-listed firm have surged more than 33% this year.

Other Gulf Arab telecom operators have also entered the African telecom market. Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) for instance bought Netherlands-based Celtel for $3.4 billion in 2005 to expand in sub-Saharan Africa.