CEOL - Alcatel signs controversial deal for Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 19, 1999 -- (AFP) The French telecoms firm Alcatel has signed a deal to supply Kosovo with a new mobile telephone network, officials said Saturday, despite staunch local opposition which led to the suspension of the head of Kosovo's telecommunications firm PTK.

The deal was signed in Paris on Friday by the economic director of the UN interim administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), Gerard Fischer, who last week took over as acting head of PTK following the suspension of the firm's ethnic Albanian director, Agron Dida.

Dida was suspended by UNMIK's French head Bernard Kouchner for "lack of cooperation" with the Joint Civil Commission (JCC), the body of international and local experts charged with examining tenders for the mobile network.

He said PTK had recommended the German telecommunications giant Siemens, which he said offered a much better financial package than Alcatel.

But Alcatel came with a partner firm, Monaco Telecom, which could handle Kosovo's international calls without passing via Belgrade, whose forces were bombed out of Kosovo by NATO in June to halt widespread oppression of ethnic Albanians.

Siemens had no international partner, which UNMIK sources said could have opened the door to demands for an international code for Kosovo, seen as a step toward independence.

Under UN resolution 1244, Kosovo was awarded substantial autonomy but denied the independence demanded by ethnic Albanians who make up the overwhelming majority of Kosovars.

Friday's deal allows PTK's subsidiary PTK-Vala 900 to purchase Alcatel equipment with an ultimate capacity for 100,000 lines, UNMIK said in a statement.

Kosovo's seven main towns are due to have a mobile network up and running within seven weeks, the statement added.

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