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ECONOMIC BRIEFS

Slovak mobile operator forced to end cheap calls

Slovakia's largest mobile phone operator, Globtel GSM, said on March 2 it had shut down a discounted service for international calls at the order of the Telecom Ministry.

Globtel's G1 service, launched in February, allowed mobile phone users to make international calls routed through Internet lines at prices far below those of the monopoly operator Slovak Telecom (ST).

Analysts had said the service may have reduced the value of ST in its planned sale to a foreign strategic partner.

"Globtel GSM is discontinuing as of March 1, 1999 the access to the service International Line G1. This step is a response to the decision of the telecom ministry," Globtel said in a statement. A senior telecom ministry official told Reuters the ministry had ordered Globtel to discontinue the service since it had violated ST's legally mandated monopoly on long distance services.

"It collides with the exclusivity of the ST... If they operated the service, it reduces the value (of ST), but that is not the reason behind our order," Stanislav Vanek said. "The law mandates a monopoly for ST until the end of 2002," he added.

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said in February his government would bring a strategic investor into the ST through a tender before the end of 1999 by privatising some shares or increasing ST's basic capital.

Globtel GSM is a consortium made up of four Slovak state-owned energy utilities, a privately owned company Hanco and France Telecom Mobile International. Globtel says it currently has some 360,000 mobile customers.

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