BANGKOK (AP) — The Norwegian telecoms company Telenor, one of the biggest carriers in Myanmar, said Thursday it has agreed to sell its entire operations in the country to the M1 Group, a Lebanese-based investment firm, for $105 million.
Telenor earlier announced it was writing off the value of the business after a military takeover ignited a public backlash and the authorities imposed limits on mobile and internet access.
“Further deterioration of the situation and recent developments in Myanmar form the basis for the decision to divest the company,” Telenor said in a statement.
It said Beirut-based M1 Group would take over its entire Myanmar business, acquiring 100% of the company, its spectrum, licenses, contracts and operations, employees and customers. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals in Myanmar.
The implied value of the entire business is about $600 million, it said.
Telenor earlier had said its continued presence in the country would depend on whether it could “contribute positively to the people of Myanmar" under the current military leadership, which ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Many foreign companies with investments in Myanmar are in the awkward situation of balancing their own interests and those of their employees against pressure both inside and outside the country to comply with sanctions against its military leaders.
Some companies have suspended construction projects or halted payments of dividends in response to such calls.
The telecoms sector is a particularly sensitive one given vital role the internet and mobile communications play in sharing information about protests and actions by the authorities.
“Telenor was put between a rock and a hard place" by demands “that it switch on phone intercept technology to help track customers who are politically opposing the military" government, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said.
The military takeover in Myanmar interrupted a faltering, decade-long move toward a civilian, democratically elected government after decades of military rule that began soon after the country, also known as Burma, gained independence from Britain.
Telenor said that the situation in Myanmar was growing increasingly challenging due to security, regulatory and compliance reasons.
“We have evaluated all options and believe a sale of the company is the best possible solution in this situation," Sigve Brekke, president and CEO of Telenor Group, said in a statement.
M1 Group is a diversified company with interests in investments, real estate, fashion, financial technology and telecom services. Its MTN network provides services in Africa and the Middle East.
Other mobile phone carriers include the local phone company MPT, Ooredoo of Qatar and Myanmar National Tele & Communications Co. (Mytel), a joint venture with Vietnam's Viettel.