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Belarus to look for buyer of state stake in Russia’s MTS local unit

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MINSK. Feb 19 (Interfax) - The Belarusian government has not given up on the idea of selling the state's 51% stake in Russian-Belarusian joint LLC MTS for $1 billion.

"Work in regard to this structure will continue. This issue remains on the agenda and this year we will continue the search [for a buyer]. Everything will be sold at a market price that takes into account Belarus' interests," State Property Committee chairman Andrei Gaev said at a press conference in Minsk on Thursday.

The price for the stake set by the government - $1 billion - "is in fact a market price, established in valuations of both shares and assets," Gaev said.

Belarus had initially planned to sell the 51% stake at auction on December 1, 2011 at a starting price of $1 billion. The date was pushed back to December 23, and then the auction was shelved due to lack of interest.

In September 2012, the State Property Committee once again began preparations for an auction and held a presentation on the asset in November, but no sale ensued. At the end of that month, the Belarusian president confirmed the possibility of selling the state stake, but for no less than $1 billion.

The Russian company MTS declined to participate in the 2011 auction, calling the asking price "inadequate." The Russian operator had confirmed its interest in the deal on several occasions, but suggested that an independent market valuation be conducted.

Beltelecom holds a 51% stake and Russia MTS - 49%.

MTS covers 98.41% of the territory of Belarus, which is home to 99.84% of its people. The subscriber base totaled 5.33 million users as of October 1, 2013.

In February 2014, MTS offered $450 million-$500 million for the asset, but Minsk said the offer was too low.

Beltelecom, which manages the government stake in JLLC MTS, had its permit to sell the government stake extended in February 2013. On September 19, a new presentation of LLC MTS was held. It was attended by representatives of MTS, Rostelecom, Nokia Siemens, ZTE and Huawei, and Belarusian operator Belcom, which is owned by Telekom Austria.

LLC MTS provides GSM 900/1800-standard cellular communications services in Belarus, and has been offering the UMTS standard since 2010, as well as 3G.

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